While I'm waiting for the pre-aired episode of Dexter to *ahem* arrive I've decided to talk about Six Feet Under. I suspect it might be because both shows star Michael C. Hall in them and show what a fantastic character actor he is, because he's damn near unrecognisable as David Fisher when compared to Dexter Morgan.
Peter Krause as Nate Fisher
Michael C. Hall as David Fisher
Frances Conroy as Ruth Fisher
Lauren Ambrose as Claire Fisher
Mathew St. Patrick as Keith Charles
Freddy Rodríguez as Federico Diaz
and Rachel Griffiths as Brenda Chenowith
With Richard Jenkins as Nathaniel Fisher
There are some shows I will point at and call 'landmark television', these are shows that managed to change the landscape of televisual storytelling through their existence or highlighted an exciting new way to tell their story. Some of them lost their way and suffered at times (like 24, Lost, Prison Break & BSG) while others never had a single major duff moment (like The Shield, The Wire, Dexter, Homicide, Arrested Development & Seinfeld). Six Feet Under belongs to the latter category.
The show, created by Alan Ball, centers around the lives of the Fisher family; who own, run and live in a funeral home. They live their lives steeped in death, surrounded by the dead and grieving. This could appear to be a bleak existence for anyone, but for the Fishers it's life as usual. Which is the core concept of the show for me, it's about death but it celebrates life.
Everything about the show is simultaneously macabre and beautiful, at least one person dies in every episode - normally these people become the clients for the Fisher family - and these deaths are handled in a way that is sometimes shocking, sometimes amusing but always original. Much like the start of House M.D. or any hospital drama you find yourself watching for the soon to be deceased and wondering who & how. Then once the moment comes the show treats it with a quiet dignity that is at first unexpected and then wonderful. Unlike most shows, Six Feet Under uses fades to white instead of the standard fade to black. These fades are used to mark each death in the show along with their name, date of birth and date of death. It's a unique touch that manages to suggest a sense of hope about what lays beyond life's ultimate doorway.
Nate Fisher is the oldest child of Nathaniel & Ruth Fisher, he grew up hating life in the funeral home and moved far away, returning only to visit the family on holidays. But on one such visit he meets a beautiful woman in the airport and they are overcome by their impulses. While this is happening tragedy strikes the Fisher family and it changes the course of Nate's life forever. Forcing him to stay in Los Angeles and help with the family business.
On one level the show deals with death and the various characters viewpoints, expectations and experiences of it. Each and every character has a fundamental sadness to them, they are forever marked by their experiences. But the other side of the show is a rather more conventional family driven drama, Claire has problems in school, David and Keith have difficulties in their relationship (mostly driven initially by David's reluctance to come out of the closet) and Nate struggles with the new direction his life has taken. It's a show with a very black sense of humour to it, while you won't spend every moment laughing - it has more than it's fair share of comedy moments.
Six Feet Under altered the direction of modern television in a profound manner, before death was mostly something that tended to happen only in crime dramas and was something to be "solved". But the show turned it into something of a spectacle and made a real event out of people dying. It broke down many of the taboos surrounding death, it was also one of the first major shows to portray a gay couple in a realistic and sensitive manner. David and Keith's relationship is a very realistic one, they feel like a proper couple and the show doesn't seem to take advantage of this by playing up the gay aspect. It's very well handled.
Michael C. Hall's performance as David Fisher was in fact so good that quite often viewers expressed surprise when they discovered he was in fact not gay in real life. The man is a phenomenal character actor and he was the sole reason I started watching Dexter. Peter Krause is also superb as Nate, giving a wonderful 'everyman' performance that helps cement the viewer into the reality of his new life. Sadly Peter hasn't really moved onto anything else that's interested me, I kept meaning to watch "Dirty, Sexy, Money" because he was in it, but I never got round to it. Likewise every other member of the core cast is just brilliant, I could go into what each and every single one brings to the show but I'll just stop by saying Mathew St. Patrick rocks.
And the final episode of the show is the single greatest finale ever. Just about everyone who's ever seen it has been moved by the intensity of it all and the vast majority find themselves involuntarily crying. Even I was touched by it and I'm a seriously jaded television viewer who has seen most of it many times before.
Six Feet Under is a monumental mark on the world of television and one that just simply should be watched by anyone who loves good drama, realistic characters or has a wry sense of humour about life.