I Just Watched the Complete Series of Six Feet Under and All I Got was This Lousy Sense of Existential Dread

11 Sep
Six Feet Under starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell

Six Feet Under: starring Rachel Griffiths, Peter Krause, Michael C.Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Justina Machado, Jeremy Sisto and James Cromwell.

I am not a traditional television binge watcher, but it took me a little over a month to watch all 63 episodes of the 2001-2005 HBO series Six Feet Under, and today, I can say that I am finished with the series.  The show, which follows the Fisher family, a multigenerational clam operating a funeral home in Los Angeles.  The show opens with the death of its patriarch, the mysterious Nathaniel Fisher, whose life remains somewhat of a mystery to his three children Nate (Peter Krause), David (Michael C. Hall) and Claire (Lauren Ambrose).  To me, the show was a bit dated and filled with references to things that no one speaks about now – Sarah McLachlan, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and old cellphones, but if you can move past that bit of weird frozen-in-time feeling, you will make it through the series.

One of the things that I believe makes the series very difficult to watch is the low likability of several of the main characters.  We often see some members of the Fisher family and their surrounding characters acting in very selfish and narrow-minded ways.  Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) is one of the characters who only continued to build in his self-righteous and self-preserving ways.  I will never understand why Rico continued his employ and later partnership with David and Nate – he always seemed ready to fight with nearly everyone.  Rico’s character also provides moral conflict when the supposedly upstanding religious father and husband begins an affair with Sophia, a stripper who apparently gives him the best BJ ever, placing his marriage in jeopardy.  This storyline eventually becomes so stale that there is no way audience can continue to support Rico, and his character essentially becomes tarnished for the remainder of the series.

The major theme of the series of course is death, and each episode of the series begins with a death that demonstrates the delicate nature of life and the possibility that death is always nearby and a very real possibility.  Of course, from the pilot opening with the death of Nathaniel Fisher (Richard Jenkins), and the final episode of the series imagining the future deaths of the major characters of the show, the series stays true to its theme.  Despite this strength, the series is marred by a parade of selfish, over-bearing characters who are concerned with nothing but themselves.  Perhaps this is the aspect of the show that is truest to life, as learning that most people are selfish by nature is a part of reality.

Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) is a character who never quite gets over the fact that there is little more to life than getting older, working a job that you probably don’t really care for, and having difficulties in personal relationships.  He is consistently selfish in his interactions with his longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), which leads me to believe that Nate is actually the unbalanced person in that relationship, and not the long-suffering Brenda.  A good portion of Nate’s storyline finds him struggling with the idea of death, especially when he learns that he has a medical condition known as AVM, an abnormal connection between arteries and veins in the brain.  This will become important again later in the series.

Brenda, often portrayed as the “crazy one” on the series (alongside her brother), was formerly the subject of a psychology book studying her odd behavior as a child (Charlotte Light and Dark), is thoroughly damaged by her wealthy psychiatrist parents who were openly sexual in front of her and her brother Billy.  Billy Chenowith (Jeremy Sisto) is Brenda’ s bipolar artist brother who has a relationship with Claire early in the series and again once more later on.  Billy, seemingly forever unstable, later confesses to Brenda that he is in love with her – one of the few moments in the series that caused me to audibly gasp out loud.

Out of the more impressive performances in the series, Frances Conroy as Ruth Fisher, the widowed matriarch, is followed on a near-endless series of romantic mishaps and frustrations.  It is interesting to see an older woman struggling to not only reconcile the death of her husband, but to also seek love in unlikely places.  We think that Ruth finds true happiness and love with George Sibley (James Cromwell), but we see how that relationship has its own flaws.  Ruth’s experiences serve as a mirror of reality for viewers, teaching them that although life is ultimately good, it is filled with endless challenges and surprises.  My favorite character on the show is David Fisher (Michael C. Hall), Nate’s initially closeted brother and the heir apparent of the Fisher and Sons funeral home.  This is the most genuine performance on the series, with David confronting nearly every fear and personal problem possible.  His tumultuous relationship with Keith (Matthew St. Patrick) is a major focus of the show, in addition to the couple’s struggles to have a child.  For a television show produced in the early aughts, this is groundbreaking writing and focus on a committed homosexual couple, which was really never seen before.  Michael C. Hall, who later went on to play Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s series about a moral serial killer, is a national treasure as far as I’m concerned.  There is, however, a very long storyline involving an incident in which David was held at gunpoint by a crazed stranger that continues to drag on far too long.

Overall, the series is a great precursor to Alan Ball’s later work, which of course includes another familiar HBO series, True Blood.   The subject matter of Six Feet Under is daring for the time in which it aired, bringing death, humanity, and sexuality to the forefront of paid cable television.  This is one of the original series that established HBO as a powerhouse, as it originally aired on Sundays, following The Sopranos.

My biggest criticism of the series is perhaps not a valid criticism at all, but I truly was annoyed by several characters on a regular basis.  The biggest offender of this was the character of Nate Fisher, Jr., who is also the protagonist of the series.  In his relationship with Brenda, I found him to be insufferably selfish, and when he later marries Lisa out of obligation (i.e., pregnancy), he becomes even more unbearably obnoxious.  I suppose the goal of Nate’s character was to show us that life really does not have to be something amazing that we imagine in our heads – it can simply be what we have, and our obligation is to enjoy it as best we can.  Nate’s narcissistic worldview that he was worth more than being a funeral director and worth more than being with Brenda was hard to watch.  If you make it to season five, some of Nate’s actions will leave you very upset, including a fateful scene in which Nate crosses the line.

If you can bear the thought of watching a show with the primary theme of death, Six Feet Under is worth watching.  However, be prepared to wallow in thoughts of death and dying for far too long during your day.  This series successfully explores the classic question of existentialism: what does it all mean?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: