Review of Six Feet Under (2001)

Sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I encounter a show or a film that makes me consider how I am living my life. You can probably sense where I’m going with this- Six Feet Under is one of those shows.

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image via HBO

The HBO series is about the Fisher family and their Los Angelos funeral home. It’s darkly funny, thank God, because if this were a drama it would be extremely depressing.  I’m about finished with the second season, and I haven’t been disappointed with an episode yet.

The pilot is one of the best first episodes of a show that I’ve ever seen. It starts off right by flipping the tables on the funeral directors; we get to see how they deal with grief. Each episode starts with a scene depicting a slice of life and the death of some new client of the Fisher Funeral home, and the pilot starts off with the death of the Fisher patriarch, Nathaniel Fisher Sr. (Richard Jenkins). His children, Nate Jr. (Peter Krause), David (Michael C. Hall), and Claire (Lauren Ambrose), and wife Ruth (Frances Conroy) are greeted on Christmas day with the news of his fatal car crash and are tasked with the preparation of his funeral, including getting his body ready for burial. For most people, the thought of preparing a loved one for death is enough to spark a panic attack. For the Fishers, it is an unfortunate part of their lives.

Dysfunction is the name of the game for the Fisher family. When you deal with death, embalming, and hysterical grieving people on a daily basis, life takes on a different hue than life for ordinary nine to fivers. It marries tragedy and comedy in a way that reminds me of real life. Fiction that speaks to me on that level is hard to come by these days, so I’ll go back to 2001 to find it.

Michael C Hall surprised me the most. I watched the first four seasons of Dexter, so I’m used to his monotone northern droll. In Dexter, he intentionally leaves the emotion out of his performance because he plays a stone-cold killer. But, in Six Feet Under he shows a range of acting that I did not expect. He’s great in this. He’s reserved yet blunt, and his deadpan delivery fits well with the morbid sense of humor of the show.

Each major character has a love interest. My personal favorite is Nate’s one-and-done lover, turned part-time lover, turned girlfriend, Brenda, played by Rachel Griffiths. The only thing I’ve seen her in is The Rookie, and her character in that is in a totally different dimension than her role in Six Feet Under. Brenda is the product of two clinical psychologists who emotionally scarred her as a child by placing her in intensive psychotherapy. She’s brilliant and derives pleasure from over-powering other people intellectually. She’s not exactly likable; I would describe her as intriguing. Her unconventional personality adds another layer to this already oddball show, and I love it.

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image via People

The writers of this show wrote the family members as vastly different individuals. They have an eclectic mix of personality traits, ages, relationship needs, sexual preferences, and ideas about religion. The characters are anything but predictable, and I never find myself saying, “Well, I saw that coming from a mile away.” The core concept of this show is the relationship between life and death, and it has offered me an abundance of food for thought.

Rating: 4 out of 4 Stars

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