Friday, September 14, 2007

REVIEW: Six Feet Under

My wife and I just finished watching the entire run of the HBO series "Six Feet Under". After failing to find any movies worthy of our $4 at the local video outlet we grabbed disk 1, season 1 and went for a ride in a lime green hearse with Fisher & Sons.

With excellent writing and fine acting punctuated by sometimes outlandish scenarios HBO's original series Six Feet Under proved to be an engrossing DVD experience. The opening scene of each episode gave us a glimpse of the moment of death, and the subtext for the episode ahead. From the woman dying Elvis-style, quietly sitting on the toilet to a man trying to rescue strangers stranded in an elevator stuck between floors... Well the elevator started moving and you can imagine what happen to him. Death is part of life and that is what this show examines in mortifying detail!

Nathaniel Fisher (played by veteran actor Richard Jenkins) owns and operates a suburban Los Angeles funeral home called Fisher and Sons. In episode one Nathaniel is killed by a bus. He may have died but he was not going anywhere. The ghost of Nathaniel Fisher pervaded everything and everyone, leaving an imprint that set the undercurrent in motion that carried the show through five turbulent seasons.

Nate (played by Peter Krause) is the flaky and self centered first born who runs away from his life in order to avoid intimacy at all costs. He is a dog, a male whore if you will. He is handsome and fit and uses his animal attraction to put his male member in as many women as possible. He is also uniquely gifted in the ability to empathize with and comfort those around him. I found this character intriguing and off putting all at once.

His younger brother David (played by Michael C. Hall) was not Nate in any way. His lack of confidence and his repressed homosexuality stunted him in every way. Only the death of his father let him face the world as he really was. Still, only in the last episode did he face down his own demon that allowed him to finally accept himself.

In season 4 in and episode called "That's My Dog" David faces his own mortality in a way that haunts him for the rest of his life. After having been carjacked and kidnapped by a drifter who pretends to befriend him, David finds himself bloody, beaten and doused with gasoline facing a lunatic with a gun in one hand and a lighter in another asking him which way he preferred to die. I must say it was a very uncomfortable thing to watch.

Claire the young sister was a lost soul who spent the entire series trying to find her identity in drugs and dangerous relationships. Hers was a childhood left incomplete by a father she hardly knew - even when he was alive - and a mother who had checked out on reality sometime in the 70's. She never really knew Nate who had left home when she was a preteen. Played by actress Lauren Ambrose, Claire was perhaps the most interesting and convincing character. That could be because I was so often reminded of my own barely adult daughter. Attitude. That's all I'll say.

The mother Ruth, (played by Frances Conroy) had lost herself in her children many years ago - like so many mothers of the time. She didn't always have a grip on reality as it presented itself in the dawn of the 21st century. She lost her husband Nathaniel long before he died. She was hot tempered and irrational on one side of the coin, and sweet, caring and compassionate on the other. She was also prone to torrid, impulsive affairs with very flawed men.

These five characters made up the center of the circle but it was by no means complete without an all star cast of guest stars, regulars and cameos. Federico Diaz, the Fishers partner and a first class restorative artist was excellently acted by Freddy Rodriguez. Rico, as he was called, took extreme pride and care preparing the deceased for a showing. The show was praised for its accuracy in depicting the mortuary business.

There was Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths) - a neurotic, erotic, sex addict with a near genius intellect who falls hard for Nate in episode one and begins a five year love-hate relationship with a man who can't really ever know intimacy. Her entire neurotic family drift in and out of series.

Keith was David's lover and was also convincingly acted by Mathew St. Patrick. A hot tempered passionate man with more common sense than anyone else in the show. He was the most normal (least screwed up) character on the show.

The list of guest stars - and I mean stars - is impressive. The show obviously attracted "A" list talent in Hollywood. Veteran character actor James Cromwell (George, Ruth's 2nd husband) was a delight. Kathy Bates of "Misery" fame, makes frequent appearances. Joanna Cassidy (Margaret Chenowith, Brenda's mother) is a crazy - and I mean crazy - psychotherapist. Mena Suvari (Edie, Claire's obsession) lights up the screen with beauty and open, lusty sexuality.

I can't praise this show enough for its fine acting, excellent writing and profound dive into the subject of death in a way we've never seen before - I really, really liked it, but...

The show's shallow political correctness was annoying. It was obvious by the occasional contemporary political commentary the writers are true Hollywood liberals and can't fathom the likes of conservatives and Christians with out devolving into complete caricatures. (The priest at their church was, of course, a closet homosexual). All the cliches about evangelical types and all the environmental pablum was on full display whenever such subjects arose. Adultery and elicit homosexual sex was the norm. Incest was hinted more than once. Polygamy was explored. Well, just about everything about sex and drugs was examined endlessly.

It seems nothing was left unexamined except the normal family where a man and his wife love each other, practice monogamy, love God and their country and their children aren't creeps. In fact, in the eyes of the writers the above mentioned are the freaks!

Strangely, I never got a warm and fuzzy Christian overture from the show but still the background screen on the main menu of every DVD depicted a Christian cross prominently (a Catholic rosary no less). This, I didn't understand.

At the very end of the series, in the last few episodes actually, they introduced a new character into Claire's life. Ted was a corporate lawyer who loved Christian music, voted for George W. Bush twice and supported the war in Iraq. I completely expected this character to be exposed as the devil himself before the show closed. Surprise! Ted turned out to be the sweetest, most caring person Claire Fisher had ever known. She detested all the things he stood for and believed in but she fell in love with the person. He was the most genuine character on the show. I can only say that I was pleasantly surprised and heartened.

I do recommend this show, it was well worth the time and the money. These characters will stay with me for years to come. That is the measure of good story telling, and what a story the Fishers have to tell.