November 5th, 2007

Live fast

Six Feet Under? More Like Dick's Meat Blunder!

I was never very interested in Six Feet Under when it was on, as it didn't seem to appeal to me at all (some show about a family who owns a funeral home? O...kay, good for them). About the only thing it had going for it as far as I knew was that it was created by Alan Ball, and I had loved American Beauty. Over the years, several things happened that made me finally decide to check it out:

  • I watched Oz, which showed me how amazing premium channel television was.
  • I watched Sports Night and loved Peter Krause.
  • I watched Dexter and loved Michael C. Hall.
  • I saw Grindhouse and loved Freddy Rodriguez.
  • I kept seeing soleta_nf use this icon and thought Lauren Ambrose was hot.
  • hobviously informed me the show employed magical realism with characters talking to dead people and stuff.
  • People said the last five minutes of the series finale, set to "Breathe Me" by Sia, was amazing.
  • electricmonk would not shut up about wanting me to watch the show.

I love the opening credits (sometimes, I swear I felt like I loved the credits more than the show itself). It's a series of haunting images set to a theme that I feel perfectly encompasses the tone of the show. Strong, punctuated moments in the stream of life, with some quirky banjo breaks. It reminds me of the Dexter credits.

Six Feet Under is about the Fisher family, who operate Fisher and Sons, a funeral home. The catalytic, series-starting event is the death of Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. That's pretty much it. This isn't a show about plot but about character. And, to be honest, I didn't like most of the characters at first (besides David and Rico). I grew to like them all to some extent, however.

Nate Fisher is the prodigal son who escaped to Seattle to work a food co-op, swearing he'd never become a funeral director. He's coming home to L.A. for Christmas and ends up staying after his father's death (obviously). Nate is perhaps the most maddening character of all because he can be a narcissistic asshole without trying very hard, but he can also be a very sympathetic man who is clearly trying to do the best he can.

David Fisher is the secretly gay son who has embraced his role as funeral director. He's pretty uptight and proper about things, and we rarely see him not wearing a suit. Except when he's taking his clothes off to fuck some random guy (I found David's sluttiness really irritating because he's such a control freak you'd think he'd be able to keep it in his pants once in a while). He's my favorite character, and I don't think the fact that Michael C. Hall is completely awesome has nothing to do with it. David Fisher and Dexter Morgan are very different characters, and he plays them both so well.

Ruth Fisher is the mother who becomes somewhat unhinged by her husband's death. At first, Ruth annoyed me a lot, but I was surprised by how much I ended up liking her. Ruth Fisher is something you don't often see on television: a well developed female character in her fifties. What I love about Ruth is that she is a mother, a wife, and a sister, but she's also a person. We are more than just our family roles. I like that she begins to question what she wants in life, what she wants to do with the time she has on this planet.

Claire Fisher is the rebellious teenage daughter trying out drugs and bad boyfriends. As the youngest Fisher, she has sort of a devil-may-care attitude about the whole enterprise, but we get to watch her mature and find her direction in life.

Rico Diaz works at Fisher and Sons as a restorative artist trained by Nathaniel Sr. He's generally pretty adorable, but he is very adamant about wanting more respect from the Fishers; he really wants to be a partner in the business. As the series progresses, we get to see more of his family life.

Keith Charles is David's boyfriend, a cop. He sincerely loves David, but the two of them don't see eye-to-eye on several issues, which leads to many an argument. I think the show is probably notable in its portrayal of gay characters and gay relationships, since they're a major part of the show and given just as much weight and importance as heterosexual relationships.

Brenda Chenowith is a woman Nate meets on the plane from Seattle and then fucks in the closet (hey, this is HBO!). She's there for Nate when he finds out his father's dead, and they begin a relationship. Brenda is one very fucked-up woman, but unraveling her mysteries is the focus of the early episodes, so I will say no more.

The show has three trademarks: every episode begins with an often-gruesome death, there are fades to white instead of black, and characters both talk to dead people and have very active imaginations that manifest onscreen. Surprisingly enough, only the first two really work to their full potential (not that the fades have a lot of potential; they're just different). The deaths range from creative to mundane, and their importance in the plot varies. Sometimes, the intake is a major focus; sometimes, the victim is barely mentioned offhand. Most of the time, the deaths are just random people, but occasionally, people the characters know are offed in the teaser as well. It's a fun device, and it's fun to see the different ways the writers use it.

The magical realism aspect of the show, however, doesn't always seem to work. While it's something that distinguishes the show from other dramas, it doesn't often add a lot. I usually didn't feel like we learned anything new by having someone talk to the Dead Person of the Week (now, Nathaniel Sr. was generally better at drawing insight out of the characters, of course). And characters frequently had Ally McBeal-style fantasy sequences or weird-ass hypothetical conversations that would abruptly cut back to reality, leaving you half-confused about what was actually said. The way it's all shot makes it seem like the characters often talk out loud to these specters, which just makes them all seem like nutjobs. And, granted, most of them are really repressed, and the fantasies of Things I Wish I Could Say But Won't are a manifestation of that, but it can often be confusing because you're always afraid something that's happening could prove to be just a fantasy. I didn't mind it all the time, but I don't know how successful a device it really was.

Another successful device? GUEST STARS! Oh man. I guess everyone wants to be on a critically acclaimed HBO show, right? I loved recognizing so many of the guest stars, some who were only around for one or two episodes, others who had bigger roles. Some I didn't even recognize until I saw the credits. I thought about naming some, but it's more fun to be surprised and on your toes.

Six Feet Under is a show about life and death, OBVIOUSLY, but those themes sort of work their ways in tangentially, simply by the nature of the stories being told. To me, the show was really about relationships of all kinds, the way that people relate to each other. The ways we hurt and help each other, the ways we connect with other human beings and enrich their lives. How we fit together and don't fit together. And along with that, it's about the fact that it's never too early or too late to find out Who You Are. It's about defining yourself first so that you can define yourself in relation to others. And, of course, it's about family.

What I love about Six Feet Under is that it truly is one long story told over five seasons. We follow these characters' lives for years, watching them grow and regress and fuck up and make mistakes and be nice and be stupid. Nearly every character went through a phase where I wasn't too fond of them, but they got their shit together and won me back by the end. (Some of the secondary characters I never really liked, but they were important to the story.) You feel like they're real people you know because you watch them go through so much. And in the last five minutes of the finale, when you have to let them go, I cried. People hadn't been exaggerating. It was an amazing, beautiful end to the series.