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Six Feet Under Review

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by Simon Crust Sep 1, 2005

    ”It's not TV, it's HBO”The famous slogan of the HBO subscription only cable channel in the US. I remember when we in the UK used to get HBO, back in the good old days before NTL. It was an odd channel, broadcasting late at night with some truly dreadful programs, yet I loved to watch; there was always the chance of seeing something out of the ordinary. For example during a documentary about the various zombie films the 'eye popping' scene from Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters was shown, a scene still cut by the BBFC, plus there was always the chance of seeing a few boobies. Much has changed in later years, we can no longer receive HBO and the channel itself is now multi award winning, with shows like Deadwood, Carnival, Curb Your Enthusiasm, my own personal favourite The Soprano's and tonight's feature Six Feet Under. The BBC may make the best period costume drams in the world, but I'll wager HBO have the monopoly on emotional baggage.Six Feet Under follows the 'fortunes' of the Fisher family; Ruth (Frances Conroy), the mother of Nate (Peter Krause), David (Michael C. Hall) and Claire (Lauren Ambrose) and the family's funeral business. Other cast members, mentioned because of their up and coming story lines, are Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodríguez) who works for the business, Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick) David's on/off boyfriend, Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths) Nate's on/off relationship and George Sibly (James Cromwell) now married to Ruth. At the end of season three the strange disappearance of Nate's wife Lisa was finally revealed, she was found drowned. On hearing this Nate went off the edge and started a bar room fight, getting himself beaten up, giving him some physical pain to complement the mental anguish he felt at his wife's news. Ruth finally married George, even though she still knows little to nothing about him. Claire went ahead with the abortion. Federico became more 'involved' with the stripper Sophia. Finally Nate turned up at Brenda's door beaten and lost.

    Season four starts almost immediately after the end of season three, whereas in reality twelve moths had passed. Keith's line “I feel like I've been eating this cake for twelve months” is a direct reference to this fact. I feel it beyond the scope of this review to discuss all twelve episodes individually, since each is a film within itself and as such would require such depth and insight that there would be no room. However, as mentioned above, each of the incidental characters have a far bigger part to play this season. While they do not get specific episodes to themselves, each gets the feel the emotional despair that has so plagued the family Fisher. Federico's infatuation with Sophia blinds him to the fact he is being used, and when his 'infidelity' is finally realised there are some heartbreaking decision to be made. George's nature becomes increasing more paranoid and he retreats further into the house. After a reconciliation Keith and David's relationship is put to the upper most strain after David is carjacked and held at gun point, he may never be able to be intimate again. Brenda's on the slow recovery from the break up with Nate, and finds solace in her new neighbour, Joe, though her patience is tested with her Mother. One glimmer of hope is the blossoming relationships of Claire, though these are not without their emotional turmoil, being as they are lesbian. And over all of this is the misery Nate feels at the loss of his wife. His search for answers and his coming to terms with his grief, while supporting others in theirs, is the real chocker, the emotional nail that holds the coffin shut.

    When watched over twelve weeks, a show like this grows with you, as the emotional level rises, you have time to contemplate, to express, to grieve. However, when assaulted by watching all twelve back to back, the grief becomes all consuming, I've not felt this bad since Bambi's mum was shot. Yet, an awful lot of bad things happen to this poor family; looked at from a distance it could almost be construed as 'soap opera' writing. Though, somehow, the show rises far above this mindset, such is the power of the performances, the skill of the writers and directors; it is emotion through and through. It is true the show does have a very depressing feel, not just the stories, but the direction too. Shot very dark and sombre, all episodes are an entity within themselves that create a wonderful emotional low when joined with the rest of the season. The season, whole, starts slow, but like all great symphonies continues to build and build until the season finale, as powerful piece of TV drama as I have ever seen. I'd suggest watching with friends and have a decent break between episodes to discuss the problems suffered. One thing is certain; there is always someone worse off than you and they're mostly on Six Feet Under. I'd never seen any episodes before this review and it is testament to the skill of the show that I was able to pick up and become involved so deeply with characters that have already had three seasons worth of growth. The fan base is such that this set will always find a home, if you are a new viewer, I'd watch it from the beginning first, not jump in at the middle as I have, because even though I was spellbound by it, I could have been mesmerised.