I’ve finally wrapped up many weeks of my being totally obsessed with HBO’s Six Feet Under. Steph and I had watched the first season on DVD a couple of years ago, but I went solo for the remaining 4 seasons worth of DVD’s. Now that I’ve seen every episode, I can say with a good degree of confidence that I believe this body of work to be some of the finest television ever made. HBO’s distinct advantage over “public” television is obvious, is it allows for a degree of reality that the CBS’s and NBC’s of the world simply cannot touch.
In short, Six Feet Under is the story of the Fisher’s, who run a family-owned funeral home in Los Angeles. In the first scene of the first episode, Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. is hit by a bus and killed, leaving the operation of the funeral home in the hands of his 30-something sons, David, who is uptight and gay, and Nate, a free-spirited resident of Seattle who only found out about his father’s death when he returned home for a visit. Somehow, his mother persuades him to stay and help with the business.
The remaining episodes deal with the fallout of Nathanial’s death, the decisions and directions we choose in life and how each and every one of us are flawed, some far more severely than others. The show’s subject matter leans towards dark and sometimes dreary, yet there are moments of unfettered happiness and even borderline comedy. The occasional fantasy sequences never go over the top like fantasy sequences are known to do; they are, in fact, a necessary and mostly serious part of the show which fill in a lot of essential facts about the Fisher’s lives before that bus hit Nathaniel. It is, without doubt, one of the most unique shows to ever hit the airways. Death itself plays a huge role in the show – after all, it still remains a fairly taboo subject in our world today, so it certainly is one of the driving factors in the show uniqueness.
Much like any other truly great show, however, what makes Six Feet Under head-and-shoulders ahead of the pack are two elements: the characters and the writing. Don’t think so? Check the laundry list of awards its won. The actors, many of whom only had made their mark in theatre and not in television, were spectacular as well. Each and every one of them were so utterly convincing and persuasive at their art that I found myself believing their personalities in theo show must be what those people are like in “real life.” At one point, Steph walked into the room during a scene featuring the moody Fisher daughter, Claire, and Steph remarked “Oh, I hate her.” Even after a couple of years, Steph remembered how unlikeable that character could be at times – that’s powerful acting. There must have been a conscious reason for choosing theatre actors, but I haven’t read up enough on that yet.
Anyway, I’m writing this with a little hesitation because I know of at least two people who are still in the middle of watching the series, so I don’t want to give anything away and I won’t. I can say that the last episode of the show was about as moving and emotional as television gets. I’m not sure if it was the last episode itself or my looking back on the scope of the whole series, but after finishing I had an almost sick feeling in my stomach. Why? I’m still trying to understand that. I think the show left me really thinking and considering in detail about the things I’ve would have (or should have) done diffrently so far in my life. I believe that kind of reflection is something that should be held at arm’s length – you simply cannot change the past, so it won’t help any to obsess about it. But the story of your life is such that you need to reflect on those things from time to time in order to set your path the way you need it set, to learn those lessons before it’s too late.
Depressing? Perhaps. But the show also left me with an overwhelming and intense feeling of hope. Hope that I can set straight anything I need to change, or hope that I can get the most out of the time I have with the people I care about. We’re all complicated, and that’s the challenge. But there’s always hope.
The idea that a television show can make me think like that is indicative of its power. You may not feel the same after watching it, but I guarantee you that if you watch a few episodes of the show, you’ll also have some degree of reflection, regret, laughter and hope. Those are life’s dominating elements, after all, aren’t they?
Shows like The Sopranos have superior acting and great, compelling storylines. Sex and the City was, largely, a light and amusing vehicle whose characters weren’t necessarily individuals, but caricatures. Entourage appears to be a show custom-built for boys. Six Feet Under is the only HBO show that truly felt real and with each episode, made me think about the emotions that come packaged with everyday life – good or bad.
A terrific piece of writing about Six Feet Under by The Boston Globe’s Matthew Gilbert can be found here. WARNING: this article contains some plot giveaways, so if you haven’t seen the show or haven’t seen the ending yet, do not read this article.
Claire: “Why do people have to die?”
Nate, Jr: “So we’ll love life.”
I’m thinking about my grandmother today, whose birthday would have been yesterday.