Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Time of the Season: S1 of Six Feet Under (’01)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 15, 2007

“I’ve never worked in a funeral home that was more depressing!”

Well, I’d put this one off as long as I could. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d have to buckle down and watch the first season, and possibly the next four, of Six Feet Under–it’s just one of those shows that you can’t really write seriously about TV without having watched. But I was real fucking hesitant to do so, since barely anyone I knew seemed to much like the show, and I was rarely in the mood to watch ten or so straight hours of what I’d assume was going to be some of the most depressing and disturbing TV I’d ever watched.

It’s weird, though–I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d react to finally watching Six Feet Under, but I expected it to be bigger than the reaction I had. It wasn’t that depressing or that disturbing, it was just a bunch of episodes of significantly above-average relatively dramatic and blackly comedic television. It’s good, sure, but it didn’t really strike me as GREAT, and from everything that I’d heard about this show (a webboard I frequent recently voted it the #5 TV show of all-time), I was expecting something that either rocked my perceptions of what GREAT TV was, or something I didn’t give a shit about at all.

In case you somehow managed to avoid this show for even longer than I did, the central premise is this–Seattle-residing Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) is begrudgingly re-uniting with his family, who own and operate a funeral parlor out of their own home, for Christmas, when patriarch Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins) gets killed in a car accident. Nate decides to move back home to help run the family business after his father’s death, along with his uptight brother David (Michael C. Hall), his loner teen sister Claire (Denise Flemming from Can’t Hardly Wait) and their domineering, off-balance mother (Frances Conroy). In addition, Nate connects with Brenda, a woman he met on the plane in, having sex with her in an airport supply closet.

Needless to say, everyone and everything is fucked up. David is a closeted homosexual, having an affair with black cop Keith, who is growing increasingly frustrated at David’s secrecy. Claire becomes an outcast at her school after her asshole semi-boyfriend (Milo from 24) tells everyone that she sucked his toes (I had no idea this was such a sexual taboo, honestly). Mom has been having an affair for two years that only now does she tell her kids about (at the father’s funeral, no less). And Brenda is the worst of all, the daughter of two insane psychiatrists, and the sister of the most creepy-jealous brother since Joacquin Phoenix in Gladiator (Elton from Clueless). I said goddamn!

Really, though, all this insantiy doesn’t add up to too much more than a super-quirky drama, in an age where super-quirky dramas are increasingly becoming a dime a dozen. Honestly, it feels more like a Showtime show than an HBO one to me–more in common with those formulaic but off-kilter enough to remain compelling shows like Weeds or Dead Like Me than the grand, epic theatrics of a show like The Wire or The Sopranos. And too often, it feels like the show is shoving those quirks in your face, as if the characters were competing to see who could act the most unscrewed.

And some of the show’s quirks can be kind of grating. The idea of the funeral shop’s corpses talking to the main characters, voicing their insecurities and giving them the necessary closure, sort of works for the first episode, especially when it’s the father they’re talking to. But as the season goes on, it starts to feel kind of cheap, especially because these characters are literally speaking out loud to these characters, not just imagining conversations in their head. I mean yeah, these characters are all nutty and whatnot, but the idea of them all talking to imaginary people on a regular basis is a real stretch, and the amount the show uses it as an expository device (“Oh, so that’s what they were thinking!”) feels like cheating.

It’s not to say that I didn’t like the show. The characters are mostly pretty good, the set-up is interesting enough, and the acting is definitely all-around solid–it’s even got the same great sort of Tragedy of Suburbia look that made American Beauty so visually striking (no coincidence, as SFU creator Alan Ball wrote the film’s screenplay). But I’m just not seeing the greatness, or even the uniqueness, yet, and for a show that’s supposed to be so love-it-or-hate-it, it’s a little disappointing.

That said, it’s promising enough that I’m willing to believe that it might get better. I’ll probably end up seeing the show through, in any event, if for no other reason than because I keep hearing how perfect the series finale is, which I’ve only got about 50 more episodes to get through to get to. Dammit. Maybe I just need to stop talking to people about TV altogether.


5 Responses to “Time of the Season: S1 of Six Feet Under (’01)”

  1. I know what webboard you’re talking about.

    Paves and I are reviving our blog btw, check it out.

  2. gena said

    it gets better and far more depressing as the seasons go on. seasons 2 and 3 are fucking stellar, though. especially when compared to season 1 and 4. stick with it, i think you’ll really grow to love it.

  3. also keep in mind gena is usually wrong about everything


  4. Matthew said

    Also the talking-to-dead-people gimmick is dropped in the first season, i think

  5. […] (Oh, and of course, huge retrospect-LOLs at the entirety of this. As always, can’t say I wasn’t warned) […]

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