#1 Movie of All-Time
#1 Romantic Comedy
#1 Movie Character
KING Of All Schmoes
The following contains SPOILERS for the HBO program Six Feet Under. You've been warned.
Television shows come and go. Sometimes, they leave a lasting impression. Occasionally, they have an impact that keeps you watching every episode with a level of involvement you only reserve for things you see as brilliant. In rare circumstances, the show excels beyond your expectations and hauls you in for the duration of its longevity. Such is the case of Six Feet Under.
The show revolves around the Fisher family, including brothers Nate (Peter Krause) and David (Michael C. Hall), sister Claire (Lauren Ambrose), mother Ruth (Frances Conroy), and from time to time, the visiting spectre of their recently deceased patriarch Nathaniel (played brilliantly by Richard Jenkins), who is killed in a traffic collision in the series pilot. The family owns and operates a funeral home, where the family lives and works quite dysfunctionally. In light of his father's unexpected death, Nate leaves his Seattle organic produce business to help David run the family business.
Nate returns home for Christmas in time to meet on-again, off-again girlfriend Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), a free spirit who alternately loves Nate and drives him up the wall with her many emotional issues and those of her family, including brother Billy (played to the scary hilt by Jeremy Sisto) and her insufferable parents. Nate juggles learning the family business and handling his love life with varying degrees of difficulty and irritation. In the long run of the series, Nate handles health issues, such as an AVM (arteriovenous malformation), parenthood, and the challenges brought on by love and marriage. He handles personal loss and change like so many of us would. Nate is such a tremendous character that when the time finally comes to say goodbye to him, the pain feels quite real.
Brother David, who has maintained and operated the home with his father as his mentor, initially resents Nate for leaving home and striking out on his own. As time goes on, he re-connects with Nate and they make a terrific team. As the series progresses, David reveals his homosexuality and the relationship he maintains with Keith (Matthew St. Charles). As David overcomes his repression and embraces life with Keith, the results vary from hilarious to touching, and at times his humanity is altogether heartwrenching. This is the role that made Michael C. Hall a star, and with very good reason, as he delivers one of the best performances in television history.
Daughter Claire is in the process of rebelling from the family when her father passes away. In dealing with her remorse, she finds a way to express herself through art, which becomes her focal point throughout her life. Her photographs and creations are lauded by her peers and teachers, although she goes through many growing pains in the process. Ultimately, Claire matures and moves forward with the blessing of her family, all of whom find different ways to support her. She becomes a surprising focal point of the show as the series comes to a close without blotting out the other members of the family and the business.
Ruth is like a rudderless ship at first, not sure how to deal with the loss of Nathaniel or her own feelings of guilt from having an affair with her hairdresser. Once she gains her self-confidence and finds a way to forgive herself, she asserts herself, often in ways more obnoxious than her family anticipated. While nobody will mistake Ruth for June Cleaver, it would be easy to identify with her struggles to be a mother and a wife. Ruth eventually settles down with George (James Cromwell) and she lives life on her terms. And her kids love her no matter what.
The family is supported by an amazing cast, including Rico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez), the parlors embalmer/technician who is largely considered the Michaelangelo of the funeral business. Rico has his own ambitions and he struggles to support his wife Vanessa (Justina Machado) and kids. In addition to the many men in Ruth's life, we get her sister Sarah (Patricia Clarkson) and friends Bettina (Kathy Bates) and Jackie (Anne Ramsay). All three of these ladies deliver top notch performances. To list all of the tremendous supporting cast this show has had in its five season run would take more space than a blog can fit.
Each episode begins with a death and the circumstances that lead up to it. Each grieving family would bring their version of dysfunction and flaws to the home and the Fishers would work with the bereaved to give them the sendoff worthy of their lost kin. David was the consumate professional while Nate brought a tenderness and humanity to the family business that complimented Davids attention to detail in preparing the funeral for each family. Ultimately, the series brings out the underlying issues in each family and in many cases likens them to the Fishers in different ways. In spite of its dark subject matter and dramatic themes, the series has so many comical moments and interludes that it grounds the characters and makes them more than just charicatures. They come to life.
The hiss meter: Between her sexual addiction, her personal distrust of men and her substance abuse, Brenda is very difficult to like at any time. Nate has no end of trouble with her, in spite of his love for her. Even in his marriage to Lisa, Brenda is in the back of his mind. When Lisa dies, Nate finds comfort in Brenda. He marries her and continues to have trouble with her throughout their marriage.
I cheered when: Keith asserted himself as a homosexual and elevated David to do so. And I cheered when Nate and David told their business rival "Lunch is over," and dismissed him before he finished eating.
I cried a whole fucking lot when: David was sobbing at Nate's funeral. I've never wanted to reach through the TV and hug another person the way I did at that moment. It felt like I was one of the family and I wanted to share their grief. No series before this has ever made me feel this way. This whole episode made me hurt.
The series finale: Making it to the end of this series felt like an achievement. And the end was so satisfying. Watching each cast member find their legs and move on in life was absolutely perfect. And Claires drive out of town toward her life in New York, filled with images of the family and how they lived and eventually passed on, took my breath away.
Creator Alan Ball has invested the series so completely that we become a part of the moments. The writing and the performances are complimentary. The settings and the technical effects are far superior to anything else in the genre. Everyone involved in this series should stand proud of their accomplishments. It's hard to imagine that it ended eight years ago and yet it still feels so relevant and fresh. I don't see the show losing its luster. This series isn't just a must see. It's a must have.