Thursday, November 16, 2006


Six Feet UnderMichael C. Hall Starring Michael C. Hall
Directed by Alan Ball (and more)
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



The wonderful thing about cable TV is that it can get away with a lot more than primetime television. Most people know this from watching such things as THE SOPRANOS. Sex, drugs, gore. Nothing is "too much" for them.

SIX FEET UNDER follows this example but by focusing on the Fisher family, a truly messed up group of undertakers who own/operate a funeral home in southern California.

Each episode opens with the death of someone, and this sets up the premise for that week’s show.

The very first episode starts with the death of the Fisher patriarch, Nathanial Fisher (Richard Jenkins, RUMOR HAS IT). He’s driving home a new hearse when it is struck by a bus, killing him instantly. He leaves behind his wife Ruth (Frances Conroy, THE AVIATOR), his eldest son David (Michael C. Hall, PAYCHECK), his younger son Nate (Peter Krause, THE TRUMAN SHOW), and high school daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose, PARTY OF FIVE TV series). This was a very effective way to get "into" the Fisher family from a viewer’s standpoint. Nothing pulls a family together like the death of one of its closest members. Although they were coming together anyway for Christmas, the Fisher’s are now forced to deal with each other on a very tight level. David has been working at the funeral home all his life and feels that his life may have been wasted. He also has to deal with his homosexuality and his inability to "come out of the closet" to his family and friends. His love for officer Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick, REUNION TV series) is felt throughout the series, and is on and off thanks to David’s psychological hurdles. Matriarch Ruth comes out to the family on her own as she tells them about an affair she’d been having for some time with a hairdresser (male); this comes out during the viewing of her husband as he awaits internment. Younger son Nate gets news of his father’s death while having sex with a stranger (Rachel Griffiths, VERY ANNIE MARY) in an airport maintenance closet. We soon learn that her name is Brenda and with her comes an entirely new set of baggage for Nate in the form of love and a relationship he never thought possible. And finally we get young daughter Claire, a highschooler who learns of her father’s death immediately after trying crystal meth for the first time.

What made the show initially entertaining and oh-so-watchable, is the effects of death on all the characters. They deal with everyone else’s grief better than their own, as they are distant from it; it’s a business. But as the series rolls on, Nate learns that they are here to do more than business. The dead visit the family in ethereal form, teaching them very tough lessons (from how to stand up for yourself, to dealing with a SIDS death). Even the family’s father Nathaniel, who started out dead in the beginning episode, turns up at crossroads and tries to help them deal with difficulties.

The series starts out with a bang and keeps going for the first several episodes. Most viewers will be glued to their TV’s, wondering what’s going to happen next; a tribute to writer/director Alan Ball. But toward the latter half of the first season the series goes a bit astray. The initial enjoyment of watching how death affects the family is swapped for a more soap opera style plot that delves into how the characters effect other characters. Although this isn’t horrible, it isn’t as gripping as the show’s initial premise. Gone are the dead’s visitations (mostly), as are the quirky commercials for hearse sales and corpse foundation putty.

But even with these issues there’s still a certain pull that the series has thanks to some strong writing and the deadly subject matter. The big question: is it worth going on to season two?

Click here for the Six Feet Under series trailer!


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