September 2, 2005
Don't have a funeral for 'Six Feet Under' just yet
As the show closes, the third season is out on DVD
HBO’s series Six Feet Under by out creator, writer, producer and director Alan Ball may very well go down as one of the best TV shows of the last decade.
The show has just wrapped its fifth and final season about that final rest of life--death. I, for one, will miss it terribly--more than any concluded television show in recent memory.
Ball first came to prominence with his groundbreaking script for the Oscar-winning film American Beauty. That black comedy captured the sham that can be the perfection of the American suburbs. The film also dealt openly and grittily with homophobia and homosexuality within the American Dream.
Then came Six Feet Under, which echoes many of the themes and concerns of American Beauty. Set in the Los Angeles funeral home Fisher & Sons, the show takes on the existential musings of death. In Ball’s hands, the grim reaper has never been so entertaining, nor so thought-provoking.
To be fair, Ball is not alone. His cast, directors and crew make this a series for the ages.
For people without HBO, the show’s third season has recently been released in a five-disc DVD set. The package has all 13 one-hour episodes and many bonus features to boot.
The inimitable Frances Conroy plays Ruth, the matriarch of the Fisher family. Fraught with the loss of her husband--whose death in the first episode was the catalyst for the series--she is trying to deal with the confusing modernity of her daughter and two sons.
Son Nate (Peter Krause) is an ex-hippie, who moves back home from his Seattle commune life to help his gay brother David (Michael C. Hall), manage the family business. Daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose) is drawn to dark and brooding boyfriends, and exhausted by the age-old teenage ennui and angst.
There are a host of supporting characters, each who adds indelibly to the series: Rachel Griffiths as Nate’s brilliant yet unstable girlfriend Lisa (they met in the, uh, ‘mile-high-club’ on Nate’s prodigal-son flight home); Freddy Rodriguez as Rico the mortuary expert and Mathew St. Patrick as David’s African-American cop boyfriend.
The third season starts with Fisher & Sons becoming Fisher & Diaz. Rico has become a partner and asserts his importance. Lisa has mysteriously disappeared and Ruth makes the sudden announcement that she’s engaged to be married. As always, each episode begins with a death whose storyline unravels as the Fishers go through the ups and downs in their own personal lives.
Among the guest stars in this season are Kathy Bates (who also directs) and Catherine O’Hara, as well as returning guest stars Joanna Cassidy, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Foxworth, Richard Jenkins and Lili Taylor. As far as creative pedigree goes, it doesn’t get any better than this.
What’s to be praised about Ball and his team is that they have allowed openly gay writers and directors to work in creating a mainstream series where homosexuality is just one of the issues, simply par for the course. Even though Showtime’s edgy and provocative Queer as Folk may have led American cable into the world of queer dramas, it is Six Feet Under that has treated the subject of homosexuality with maturity, finesse and good humor.
The DVD of the third season has bonus materials including interviews with Ball and producer Alan Poul; audio commentaries for five episodes by Ball and Poul with directors and writers; and never-before-seen deleted scenes.
The third season won an Emmy Award in 2003 and a Golden Globe Award for Frances Conroy. It truly deserved many, many more.
The irony here is that this series, so preoccupied with death, by virtue of its sheer quality and originality will make sure it lives on and on.
The DVD is $99.98 at most book stores and video stores, and is available for rental.