Six Feet Under (S1)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
After the untimely death of Nathaniel Fisher (the great Richard Jenkins), owner of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, the rest of the family, wife Ruth, daughter Claire and sons David and Nate (Jr.) must not only address matters regarding the family business, but also deal with their relationships with each other (or lack thereof) on top of trying to get some sense of where they stand concerning their own lives. All this becomes all the more challenging when constantly being surrounded by dead people, the grieving friends and family of those dead and their late father and husband who just keeps “popping up" whenever he feels like it.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Over the past few years, it seems every time you hear somebody wailing about a brilliant new television program it inevitably ends up being an HBO show. The reason for that (it’s not just the swearing and the nudity) is that these shows are usually set in “worlds” that are more or less foreign to us and consequently, it’s easy for there to be at least the curiosity factor that’ll have you tuning in for at least the pilot episode. There is the experimental prison show (OZ), the mob family drama (THE SOPRANOS) and the show dealing with single women and their “dating” and relationship experiences (SEX & THE CITY) and it’s no less compelling this time around when it’s the funeral home program that deals equally with life as it does (obviously) death (SIX FEET UNDER). The other common element for all these shows (I’m a fan of them all) is the consistently brilliant writing that’s involved. SIX FEET UNDER takes over top spot as my favorite among the three (OZ falls to #2), and like the others, is equally humorous, dark and thought provoking. I guess the one big difference is that these are more or less ordinary people and it’s easier to relate to them because of that. It’s not enough to have an original idea and a carte-blanche for cursing and skin shots, it’s the fascinating characters and storyline that’ll make you feel like you can’t miss a show and SIX FEET UNDER has an abundance of those.
The creator is Alan Ball (writer of AMERICAN BEAUTY) and he sets things in motion well by writing and directing the pilot episode which involves oldest son Nate (Peter Krause) coming home on X-mas Eve on the day his father meets his demise. All the main actors are perfectly cast (mostly New York stage actors whom you won’t recognize) with the stand-outs being character actor Richard Jenkins (the dead pop) and Nate’s newfound honey Brenda, played by the lovely and charming Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths. All the actors do an exceptional job at slowly revealing the many different layers to their characters and its the development and changes these personalities go through week by week that is the most gripping quality the show possesses. You simply have to see what happens next. As far as the setting being in a funeral home, well, I can honestly say that after watching all 13 episodes (in a wild 2-day marathon), I would not only not mind working in one, but living there seems like it’s a blast as well.
What makes SIX FEET UNDER special is that it tackles a multitude of issues with the most obvious and important ones being life and death. The question of the meaninglessness and/or the importance of life and death are engrained somewhere in every episode and the thoughts they tend to raise will stay with you long after you shut your set off. Something EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND just doesn’t do for me anymore.
First of all, there are episodic recaps and previews on each disc (4 in all), in case you decide not to take 2 days off your life and watch it straight as I did. This helps you remember what happened “last week” or get your mouth watering for the next show. There are also cast and filmmaker bios which were fun to have because most of the actors are virtual unknowns to the screen. It was nice to find out more about them and the work they’ve done before. There are web links available as well, if you’ve got a DVD-ROM (your PC has to be running on Windows 95 or higher) but sorry gang, it won’t work on a CD-ROM. Alan Ball, who wrote and directed both the pilot and season finale, has an audio commentary on those episodes as well. He has an easy-going quality about him so it was really enjoyable listening to him discuss his thoughts on the actors, certain shots he chose and why, as well as things he borrowed from his own life that he’s incorporated into the show.
There is just one deleted scene (with commentary) from the pilot episode. It’s too bad they cut it, it helps understand one of the characters a bit more and it’s pretty funny too. If you love the title track for SIX FEET UNDER than you’re in for a treat as well with two music tracks available on the disc for your listening pleasure, one of them a “Kid Loco” remix. A 15-minute featurette on the creation of the show’s opening titles is also added. Not my bag really, but if you’re into the technical and musical aspects of what it takes to put together a suitable title sequence for a show like this, than I guess you might enjoy it. Finally, the behind-the-scenes 20 minute featurette is great but way too short for my liking. This feature allows you to see the actors as they really are, discussing things as various as their favorite scenes to their worst jobs (in real life). The show’s creator also gets in there for the festivities. Good, but not great.
SIX FEET UNDER beats most feature films out there and certainly makes most of the reality filled TV nonsense that’s poisoning you and I weekly seem even more idiotic. I’d easily recommend it for purchase as it's something I can see myself watching all over again in the near future. The extras are satisfactory, but not extraordinary. Most video stores rent out episodes from popular HBO series, so give it a shot! Now I'm off to my local funeral home to “hang out”.