When I told people to check out the series, ‘Six Feet Under’, they all asked the same question- “What is it about?” I had no answer, so I said “Just watch it.” A number of possible answers came to mind but none of them could accurately represent what the series was really about. When I finished it, I found the correct answer to the question- Life and Death. That is what Six Feet under is about. It’s funny I didn’t get the answer before. The celestial opening theme suggests just that. It seemed apt for the series but I never asked what about it made it apt.
Six Feet Under revolves around a funeral home, Fisher & Sons. Every episode begins with introducing new characters, one of which contributes to the family business by, well, dying. The deaths fade to white, instead of black, because it is these deaths that fuel the fisher family, and the series. Ironically, the pilot episode begins with the death of Nathaniel Fisher, the patriarch of the family and the owner of the business. His younger son, David, plays by the book and makes funeral arrangements for his father while battling with his own sense of shock. His elder brother, Nate, is an extreme libertarian. He continuously grunts at the subdued way with which people choose to grieve. The youngest, Claire, complies with indifference. Their mother, Ruth, drowned by ambivalent feelings confesses that she’s been having an affair with her hair dresser. This episode establishes clearly the personalities of the Fisher family. How they progress or regress, you will see for yourself.
Alan Ball, screenwriter of American Beauty is the creator of the series. Road to Perdition and Revolutionary road gave me the impression that director Sam Mendes was the genius behind American Beauty. Only now do I realize that American Beauty is more of Alan Ball than Sam Mendes. Alan Ball looks at life and death with rose tinted glasses. They’re phenomenal to him, just as that plastic bag was in American Beauty. Somewhere in between, the series loses tempo and, in its characters and viewers, rakes up emptiness- one of the many themes that Ball confronts. The biggest strength (a difficulty with respect to implementation) in television series is character development. Since they last longer than movies, you watch the characters grow slowly, accepting them. The writers here don’t scrimp on the characters. There are a number of characters that come and go and they all exist as their own entity. The lead characters' thoughts are often shown through surreal conversations with dead people. Having to hear tragic incidents every now and then only punctuates their own lives with decision making conflicts. The use of music here is great, particularly the choice of closing the pilot episode and the series finale with ‘Waiting’ by the Devlins and Sia’s ‘Breathe me’ respectively. At this point, I simply cannot stop listening to those tracks. Acting is consistently top-notch. Every performer here darkens the lines between the characters by disappearing into their own. Dexter fans, if you thought Michael C Hall was great there, watch him here. He shows promises of becoming a legendary actor.
There is more heart in this than anything I’ve seen. And just so you know, that isn’t synonymous with being the best I’ve seen. However, it did become an instant favourite. The closing montage of the series finale filled me with sadness because I felt like I was a Fisher, myself. There are deaths in every episode but the one that leaves you emotionally battered is the death of the series. This is a worthy emotional investment. Don’t miss out on it.
Rating - 10/10