HBO's Six Feet Under deals with a family that runs a mortuary. Each week begins with a bizarre death of someone whose body ends up at Fisher & Diaz Mortuary. The dead person's spirit often appears to one of the main characters to shed some light on what's happening. The deaths, however, are not nearly as bizarre as the Fisher family.

2001-Present TV Series Review

This page was created on June 28, 2004
This page was last updated on June 5, 2005


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CREDITS

Cast (in credits order)
Peter Krause .... Nate Fisher
Michael C. Hall .... David Fisher
Frances Conroy .... Ruth Fisher
Lauren Ambrose .... Claire Fisher
Rachel Griffiths .... Brenda Chenowith
Freddy Rodríguez .... Federico Diaz
Mathew St. Patrick .... Officer Keith Charles
Jeremy Sisto .... Billy Chenowith (2001, 2003)
Richard Jenkins .... Nate Fisher, Sr.
Lili Taylor .... Lisa Kimmel Fisher (2002-2003)
Joanna Cassidy .... Margaret Chenowith
Robert Foxworth .... Bernard Chenowith (2001-2003)
Justina Machado .... Vanessa Diaz
Nicki Micheaux .... Karla Charles (2001 -)
rest of cast listed alphabetically
Eric Balfour .... Gabe Dimas (2001-2002)
Shawn Barber .... Third Season Regular (2003)
Ed Begley Jr. .... Hiram Gunderson (2001)
Marina Black .... Parker McKenna (2001-2002)
Joel Brooks .... Robbie (2001-2002)
Paul Terrell Clayton .... Eddie (2001-2002)
Peter Facinelli .... Jimmy (2004)
Ben Foster .... Russell Corwin (2003)
Gary Hershberger .... Matthew Gilardi, from Kroehner (2001-2002)
David Hornsby .... Patrick (2003- )
Peter Macdissi .... Olivier Castro-Staal (2003- )
Tim Maculan .... Father Jack
Ed O'Ross .... Nikolai (2001-2002)
Aysia Polk .... Taylor (2002)
Dina Spybey .... Tracy Montrose Blair (2001)
Mena Suvari .... (2004-)
Justin Theroux .... Joe (2003-2004)
Marty West .... Pepper (2002)
Rainn Wilson .... Arthur Martin (2003- )

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AVAILABILITY ON VIDEO AND DVD

Six Feet Under - The Complete First Season (2001)
DVD

The Fishers are your typical dysfunctional family. Ruth (Frances Conroy) is the stern matriarch who has trouble expressing emotion and snaps at the slightest problem. Daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose) is an underachiever who cultivates a moody, mysterious loner image in high school (she's indulging in illegal substances too). Brother David (Michael C. Hall) works in the family business, and is uptight beyond belief (he's indulging in a secret homosexual relationship too). Elder brother Nate (Peter Krause) is the black sheep, who, eschewing responsibility, fled to Seattle but got lured back. And Dad (Richard Jenkins) watches it all bemusedly. Did we mention Dad's dead? Oh, and that the Fisher family business is a funeral home? It might sound off-putting, but coming from the mind of Alan Ball, the man who strip-mined suburban life to find the mordant wit underneath in American Beauty, Six Feet Under is a trenchant, stylish spin on standard family dysfunction.

This HBO series initially aspired to fits of Twin Peaks-like whimsy, with each episode starting with a death more outlandish than the previous, but soon settled into a comfortable groove that harkened back to the most familiar of TV family dramas (in fact, it's almost a mirror image of '70s drama Family, down to the three sibling archetypes). Of course, its HBO roots allowed it ample leeway with sex, drug usage, profanity, and violence. While the writing strove to be a little too clever, the overall look and tone of the show remained solid and sometimes profound (sometimes absurd too, but usually with good reason). Krause and Hall, as initially warring brothers who come to a wary understanding, are solid anchors, but it's the women in the cast who do the most phenomenal work. Conroy infuses her almost stereotypical mom with an obstinate but ultimately accepting heart, and Ambrose's Claire is by far the show's most appealing character. And stealing scenes left and right is Rachel Griffith's Brenda, a mystery woman with an outlandish backstory who meets Nate on a plane, has sex with him at the airport, and infiltrates his life. Like Brenda herself, Six Feet Under is fascinating--and highly addictive. --Mark Englehart

Six Feet Under - The Complete Second Season (2002)
DVD

In some ways, HBO's Six Feet Under plays kid brother to stellar BMOC The Sopranos: it's spunkier, less refined, chancier, and a bit of a punk. Nevertheless, the show set in the Southern California mortuary Fisher and Sons deserves its place in the pantheon of great television series. The initial season was a showcase for the most original characters, including tight-lipped brother David (Michael C. Hall) coming out of the closet, emotionally trippy mom Ruth (Frances Conroy), and the most complex girlfriend on the face of the planet, Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). Slowly, the major force in season 2 is the unassuming lead, Peter Krause. Part of the long line of good-looking actors who never get respect because they make it look too easy, Krause (Sports Night) finds the perfect blend of optimism with a wonderful, bittersweet anguish as Nate, the prodigal son.

The initial season's happy ending is forgotten as relationships change, the business is still under fire from the evil conglomerate Kroehner, and a lively dream sequence is just around the corner. As with the premier season, creator Alan Ball lets many others direct and write the show, but his stamp is all over it. The eccentricities of the characters are shaped, and not always suddenly. Take daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose), who sheds her bad boyfriend only to find more complex relationships on her road to discovering her own groove. One person in the mix is Ruth's beatnik sister (Patricia Clarkson, in an Emmy-winning role), a joyous embodiment of thriving--if aging--counter culture. Another new character is Nate's old girlfriend, the granola-loving Lisa (Lili Taylor). With Brenda heading down another destructive course, Nate is at more than one crossroads by season's end. For fans who groove with the wild, serio-comedic world of the Fishers (and let's face it, many didn't), the second season goes down like a fine meal of fusion cuisine. The show shares an unfortunate family trait with its HBO big brother: although both were lavished with multiple Emmy nominations the first two seasons, both took home only token awards. But then there's always next year. --Doug Thomas

Six Feet Under - The Complete Third Season
DVD

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SYNOPSIS
A bakery owner meets an unsavory demise and it's up to Fredrico to put the pieces back together. The Fishers decide to sell out to Kroehner, but Nate backs down after meeting with "that greedy little Nazi f*ck," Gilardi. Claire finds a disturbingly apropos way to pay Gabe back for blabbing to the school about her toe-sucking exploits. A vengeful Gilardi tells Nate that Kroehner has bought the abandoned house across the street, and plans on turning it into a cheap crematorium. Looking for a way to feel "alive", Ruth visits the horse track with best friend Amelia, but loses a bundle. After Nate and Brenda make love in the Kroehner house, it suspiciously catches fire.
Example from Show
episode 1
"Pilot"
Directed by: Alan Ball
Written by: Alan Ball

Synopsis
Los Angeles, Christmas Eve, Nathaniel Fisher, owner of the Fisher and Sons Funeral Home, is killed when a municipal bus broadsides his new hearse. The tragedy casts a pall on the holiday homecoming of son Nate (who works for an organic food co-op in Seattle), as he must not only deal with the death of a father, but the fragile egos of mother Ruth (who has been having a secret affair with her hairdresser, Hiram), brother David (a closet homosexual seeing a black policeman named Keith), and a sister Claire (a rebellious high-schooler who receives the bad news after dropping crystal meth with new boyfriend Gabe). The only good thing to happen to Nate is Brenda, a passionate women he met on the plane, just before learning of his father's death. At home, David eschews the talents of his young mortician, Fredrico, to personally undo the damage of his dad's accident. The ensuing funeral leaves the family's deepest emotions exposed, and calls into question some of our more absurd rites of passage. At the gravesite, David is not amused by the advances of Matthew Gilardi of Kroehner Service Corporation, a funeral- home conglomerate looking to buy out the Fishers business. As for senior Nathaniel, he may have been laid to rest- but has plenty left to reveal to his family.

Review by
DARREL MANSON BLOG
Pastor, Artesia Christian Church, Artesia, CA
http://netministries.org/see/churches/ch01198

Darrel has an incredible love and interest in the cinematic arts. His reviews usually include independent and significantly important film.
A pair of cable shows shed light on life by focusing on death.

Click to enlargeHBO's Six Feet Under deals with a family that runs a mortuary. Each week begins with a bizarre death of someone whose body ends up at Fisher & Diaz Mortuary. The dead person's spirit often appears to one of the main characters to shed some light on what's happening. The deaths, however, are not nearly as bizarre as the Fisher family. SFU is currently in its fourth season.

Dead Like Me is about a young woman (George) who has been killed by a toilet seat falling from a disintegrated space station (weird death is a key in DLM as well). Rather than moving on to an afterlife as we usually think of afterlife, George by luck of the draw becomes a Reaper. Reapers are undead people whose job it is to harvest peoples’ souls just before they die. DLM is about to begin its second season.

Both shows, as is so often the case with cable series, are geared to adults. Both (although SFU more than DLM) include strong profanity and adult themes.

Click to enlargeAs much as death seems central to both of these shows, they are really about life. Both shows, in very different ways, give us the opportunity to examine the meanings of life by putting the life experiences of the characters into perspective.

Click to enlargeSFU is very dark and haunting. The characters move from crisis to crisis in their personal lives. None of them has really found a good coping mechanism, and their trials often get out of control. These are people who have seriously messed up their lives -- often with considerable help from others. There is Nate, who returned to help with the family business after his father died. He had a very torrid relationship with Brenda, whose childhood was written about in a popular book. She and her manic-depressive brother have a serious relationship that might be described as emotional incest. In season three, Nate is married to a passive-aggressive hippie who has his child, then disappears; we discover that she is dead at the end of the season.

Click to enlargeNate’s brother David is gay and in an on-again-off-again relationship with Keith, a former police officer, now working as a security guard. They struggle with their relationship. David was "closeted" through most of the first season, and still struggles with being "out."

Click to enlargeDavid and Nate’s sister Claire has now completed high school and is going to art school, seeking to develop her talent. But like her brothers she also has a terrible time trying to find a real relationship with someone. Unsurprisingly, she is also somewhat affected by the constant presence of death in her life. (The family lives in the mortuary).

Click to enlargeIn the early seasons, their mother Ruth was experiencing a new freedom that came with the death of her husband. Since then, she has been with several men and is now married to a man she knows almost nothing about, except that he’s been married six times.

As mentioned above, the show has a very dark and haunting feel to it. There is always trouble and crisis to be dealt with. But in some ways it is very similar to what we'd expect from the Preacher of Ecclesiastes -- if he were in a bad mood. The Preacher kept looking for what would give life meaning. The characters of SFU are all looking for happiness in many ways -- sex, success, relationship, family, religion; but they always come up short. In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher finally concluded that the meaning of life was that we all die, so we should enjoy the days that we have. But the people in SFU have not learned that lesson yet. They continue to seek ways that they hope will give them happiness while happiness continues to elude them, because they have not made the connection of life and death in their lives -- even though death is such a constant for them.

DLM is also dark, but it is dark comedy. George, the new Reaper, never really learned much about life while she was alive. She is fresh out of high school -- no career, no ambition, no plans -- when the toilet seat does her in.

But as a Reaper, she now has responsibilities. She may be dead, but then again, she's not dead. To start off, she needs to figure out how to do all the things living people need to do, like get an apartment and money for food. She is given her assignment each day by Rube, the leader of her band of Reapers, who has taken her under his wing a bit. It is important that she does this work: the soul trapped in a dead body is a terrible thing. So -- as distasteful as her job is (and this group gets all the weird deaths) -- it's imperative that she follows through.

There are a few other Reapers with whom she interacts and learns (some good things and some things not so good). They are all putting in their time until they've met their quota (whatever that is) and can move on to whatever reward awaits them.

We (and George) also look in from time to time on her family and the struggles they have with their grief at losing her.

George, we observe, is learning much more about life after she has died than she learned while alive. In some ways this is encouraging, seeing her grow out of her slacker persona (although not without struggle). But it is also a bit sad because we know that she could just as easily have experienced this growth and the joy she finds, while still living.

SFU’s dark tragedy and DLM’s dark comedy both remind us, as did the
Preacher, that we need to find the joy in life while we can, because in the end, it is all so brief.

Example from Show
episode 1
"Pilot"
Directed by: Alan Ball
Written by: Alan Ball

Synopsis
Los Angeles, Christmas Eve, Nathaniel Fisher, owner of the Fisher and Sons Funeral Home, is killed when a municipal bus broadsides his new hearse. The tragedy casts a pall on the holiday homecoming of son Nate (who works for an organic food co-op in Seattle), as he must not only deal with the death of a father, but the fragile egos of mother Ruth (who has been having a secret affair with her hairdresser, Hiram), brother David (a closet homosexual seeing a black policeman named Keith), and a sister Claire (a rebellious high-schooler who receives the bad news after dropping crystal meth with new boyfriend Gabe). The only good thing to happen to Nate is Brenda, a passionate women he met on the plane, just before learning of his father's death. At home, David eschews the talents of his young mortician, Fredrico, to personally undo the damage of his dad's accident. The ensuing funeral leaves the family's deepest emotions exposed, and calls into question some of our more absurd rites of passage. At the gravesite, David is not amused by the advances of Matthew Gilardi of Kroehner Service Corporation, a funeral- home conglomerate looking to buy out the Fishers business. As for senior Nathaniel, he may have been laid to rest- but has plenty left to reveal to his family.

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