Pros: cast and writing absolutely dead on, outstanding series
Cons: none for me
The Bottom Line: "Hard to believe But I'll be buried six feet underground I'll be dead and gone, no longer around" ~No Doubt
To say that Six Feet Under was a tad bit bizarre is putting it mildly. Since it aired on cable the language and activities are more straight forward than on conventional TV. The run time was from 2001-2005, 63 episodes, nominated for 164 awards and winning 46 total. It was created by Alan Ball and I, for one, would have liked to be in the room the day he presented his concept to the mucky-mucks.
The series follows an unusual format as each episode begins with a death. The balance of the episode may take many twists and turns but at the center of it all is the Fisher family, owners of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home in Los Angeles. Although the departed are certainly deceased, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are departed since we often see them grace the screen, some with amusing interludes.
In addition, there are many instances throughout the series when a particular actor might suddenly break into song. We, as the viewers, are the only ones that see this happen, while the others on the screen might see the same person standing in a solitary position never realizing we are being treated to an bit of dry entertainment.
Six Feet Under, Season 1 episodes include: The Pilot ~Deceased: Nathaniel Fisher, 1943-2000 ~The circumstances: Nathaniel, family patriarch, is on his way to the airport to pick up his eldest son, Nate, who lives in Seattle and is returning home for a holiday visit. It is Christmas Eve. He is driving their new hearse, singing along to the radio, smoking his forbidden cigarettes, and the cell phone rings.
It is wife, Ruth, asking him to stop at the store to pick up soy milk for their returning vegetarian son. In a way only wives and mothers seem to know, she knows he is smoking and chastises him so he tosses the cigarette out the window. After he hangs up, he immediately begins lighting another cigarette, not concentrating on his driving, and is broadsided by a metro bus, killing him instantly. ~The story: We cut to the airport and the arriving Nate. He is accompanied by a woman he met on the plane, Brenda, and they have a bit of conversation. After a minute to two, they slip into an empty utility closet and have a rather ambitious sexual interlude. Back at the funeral home, Ruth gets a call from the police and learns of her husbands fate. Youngest son, David, is tending to a funeral downstairs and rushes up to find out what the commotion is about, hearing of his fathers death. Since he can’t leave at the minute, they do have a viewing going on after all and business is business, he contacts the younger sister, Claire, and tells her to pick her mother up and take her to the morgue to identify the body.
Claire, a high school student, is, well, strange. When she receives the call, she has just done a hit of crystal meth. She picks up her mother, tweaked out on meth, and makes a harrowing trip to the morgue where she meets up with Nate, who has arrived thanks to his new friend, Brenda. Obviously the only one capable of identifying the body at this point is Nate and this is when we have our first encounter of the departed not being so departed as Nathaniel has a little chat with Nate.
Nathaniel also appears to David as he is preparing his fathers body for viewing and to Ruth as she is getting ready for the funeral. He tells Ruth he knows she has been having an affair for several years with her hairdresser and he is happy for her. At the burial he appears to Claire and we see him watching the entire ceremony. It is an unconventional burial, at best.
The pilot also introduces us to Frederico, “Rico“, the restoration artist at the funeral home. Nathaniel had paid for him to attend college and he has worked for them ever since. He is young, married, with a small son and another on the way. He dreams of someday becoming a partner in the Fisher business but fears it will never happen.
We also meet Keith, a hunky policeman, who we discover is David’s lover. None is wise to the fact in the family but it only takes a minute for the world wise Nate to figure it out and the more current Claire to see it as well. Finally, we meet Matt Gilardi, who arrives at the burial just as everyone is leaving. Not the most tactful person, he represents Kroehner Service International and he puts forth an offer to buy out Fisher and Sons.
The final thing introduced in the pilot only and then dropped was the series of fake commercials. There were four in total, each dealing with some aspect of the funeral trade. I will admit I was surprised at the first one because I didn’t expect a commercial in a cable series until I realized it was a spoof. I don’t know why they abandoned the idea, it was great.
The Will ~Deceased: Chandler James Swanson, July 29, 1967 - January 8, 2001 ~The circumstances: dove head first into the family pool. The pool won. ~The story: we discover Chandler, although he put on an affluent front, was penniless and leaves a wife and small daughter to foot the expenses. Nate, unknowing of rules and regulations, tells her they will rent her a casket to give him a proper send off, then cremate the body, which is much more inexpensive. He soon learns you can’t “reuse” a casket and has to eat the $9000 cost of his mistake.
Nathaniel’s will is read, leaving the majority of his estate to Ruth. He leaves the funeral business jointly to Nate and David, much to the chagrin of both. Claire is given a trust for college. Nate learns of the offer from Kroehner and tries to convince David to sell so he can return to Seattle and his carefree lifestyle. Ruth has a final outing with her boyfriend, Hiram.
The Foot ~The deceased: Thomas Alfredo Romano, May 16, 1944 - January 21, 2001 ~The circumstances: climbing into the dough mixer at the bakery to clean it, it is accidentally started. Dough machine won. ~The story: Rico has his work cut out for him when the jigsaw puzzle that was Thomas Romano arrives at the funeral home. To top it off, the family is aggressive in their insistence that he appear as normal as he did in real life. This would be all well and good except when Nate retrieves the body from the morgue, he spills the body bag contents on the floor of the prep room at Fisher’s. Claire walks in while he is attempting to retrieve all the scattered parts and leaves in a hurry.
At school Claire has furthered her relationship with Gabe [who gave her the meth] and has cemented it with sex. Gabe has a quirky request that she suck his toes, she complies. The next day word is out she is a piggy sucker and she is irate with Gabe, getting him back by putting a foot [stolen from Thomas Romano’s spilled remains] in his school locker.
Kroehner’s decides to heat things up when Fisher’s back out of an intended sale, and buys the house across the street from Fishers to put in a new funeral service as competition. However, the house catches fire, putting Nate and Brenda under suspicion since they were the last ones in the abandoned house.
Familia ~The deceased: Manual Pedro Antonio Bolin “Paco”, February 6, 1980 - February 15, 2001 ~The circumstances: when his car breaks down, Paco goes to a phone booth to call for help. A rival gang appears. The gang won. ~The story: Paco’s stringent family demands a regular funeral for their fallen son but his fellow gang members insist they want to foot the bill and have a funeral they can participate in. David, seeing he has no way to talk to them on their level, asks Rico to intervene which only insults Rico. Even more tension arises between Gilardi as the Fisher’s refuse to fall under the spell of Kroehner. Suspicions abound that Claire is responsible for the fire across the street, considering the fact that they found out about the stolen foot. Nate invites Brenda to dinner and they are discovered, by Ruth, having oral sex in the viewing room. Keith pushes David to be more secure in his sexuality.
An Open Book ~The deceased: Jean Louise McArthur “Viveca St. John”, September 9, 1957 - February 17, 2001 ~The circumstances: while bathing and preparing to go on a date with “the man”, Viveca’s cat knocks the radio into the tub. Electricity won. ~The story: Viveca St. John was an adult film star and her funeral is attended by an unusual cast of characters. In the meantime, David takes on one more role his father held, Deacon of the church his mother attends. This causes even more strife between he and Keith, since he won’t admit to anyone he is gay. Claire is immersed in therapy because of her ‘foot’ incident and her mother insists they spend more time together, forcing her to go visit their cousins. Both beat a hasty retreat in the middle of the night.
Nate is invited to dinner by Brenda’s parents and discovers she won’t be in attendance. He finds out she is an extremely intelligent person, which we already figured out, and was the subject of a study as a child and a book was written about her [Charlotte, Light & Dark - which is a real book by the way]. He also finds out just how twisted her brother Billy is and the influence he has on Brenda’s life.
The Room ~The deceased: Mildred “Hattie” Effinger Jones, April 16, 1920 - March 21, 2001 ~The circumstances: natural death ~The story: Being married to the same woman for 56 years, Mr. Jones finds it difficult to leave his wife and spends the night at the funeral home with her body. Ruth introduces David to Hiram, who attends the same church. Nate investigates old records and discovers his father traded funerals for other services which included marijuana and a room stocked with liquor and old records. Claire meets Billy, Brenda’s brother, and strikes up a friendship with him, discovering the truth about Brenda. Ruth rekindles her romance with Hiram but is also being pursued by Nikolai, a florist.
Brotherhood ~The deceased: Victor Wayne Kovich, January 16, 1971 - April 1, 2001 ~The circumstances: Gulf War veteran, exposed to chemicals. Chemicals won. ~The story: Victor Kovich dies after suffering for years from lung disease. His brother, angry with the military for not supporting their stricken, requests cremation but Nate discovers papers that Victor left behind requesting a Military funeral. He has to convince both David and the brother of the boy's wishes. Ruth invites Hiram to dinner to meet the family and takes a job at Nikolai’s floral shop. Nate makes plans to take Brenda away for a weekend in the desert and is met with disapproval by Rico who thinks he isn’t receiving what he deserves at Fisher & Sons, especially since Gilardi is romancing him. A wrench is thrown into the plans, though, by Billy.
Crossroads ~The deceased: Chloe Margaret Bryant Yorkin, January 7, 1959 - April, 2001 ~The circumstances: celebrating her divorce, Chloe and friends are out on the town. As she puts her head out of the roof of the limo, a low clearance light box shows up. Light box won. ~The story: it is a slow time in the funeral business and Rico is supplementing his income by doing specials for Kroehner, which includes the corpse of Chloe. Claire is on a wilderness training outing but has no idea why. Nate and David decide to rent out the viewing room to a group of elderly square dancers so they can pick up some extra cash during a slow time. Ruth can’t decide between dependable Hiram or volatile Nikolai. Just as a 10 car pile up makes it look like things will pick up at the funeral home, Rico leaves to join Kroehner’s staff fulltime.
Life’s Too Short ~The deceased: Anthony Christopher Finelli, April 12, 1995 - April 12, 2001 ~The circumstances: while Gabe is babysitting his brother a friend arrives with a stash of pot. He shoos the brother out of the room and curiosity takes him to his mothers room where he discovers a gun. Gun won. ~The story: Gabe is at odds about the death of his brother, finding no support from his mother or friends. Claire steps forward and offers her friendship once again. When his abusive stepfather shows up at the funeral home, Nate takes the situation into hand. In an effort to help him understand the business better, Brenda takes Nate to several funeral homes as potential customers to see how other people act but pushes the limit when she pretends she is dying of cancer. David has been seeing Kurt, the stud that does the calling for the square dance group, and gets some ecstasy which he hides in an aspirin bottle at home. It so happens Ruth takes the bottle along when she and Hiram go on a camping trip and she has a trip of her own.
The New Person ~The deceased: Jonathan Arthur Hanley, April 24, 1946 - May 4, 2001 ~The circumstances: constantly complaining Jonathan finally pushes his wife too far and she picks up a frying pan at breakfast one morning, whacking him up side the head. Frying pan won. ~The story: David and Nate are searching for a replacement for Rico and settle on Angela. She is a bit unconventional but adept at her job. She also mentions to Ruth that David is gay. Billy has a showing at a gallery, which includes a picture of Nate urinating on the side of a building which ticks Nate off. Brenda also discovers, from her parents, that Billy did not attempt suicide years ago but had built a bomb intending to kill both he and Brenda. Claire continues to be concerned about Gabe and his depression. Rico returns to Fisher & Sons after a disappointing experience at Kroehner’s.
The Trip ~The deceased: Dillon Michael Cooper, May 4, 2001 - May 23, 2001 ~The circumstances: SIDS ~The story: this is an extremely difficult time for both the Fisher’s and Rico when the small baby arrives and it becomes necessary to explain to the parents they have to have a funeral. They are so young they weren’t even aware of why they were sent there by the hospital. Rico, expecting his own child any day, has trouble dealing with this small child but his wife convinces him to do his best. Claire discovers Gabe is in the hospital, from a drug overdose, and makes the trip to Barstow to visit him. She figures out it wasn’t accidental but keeps the information from everyone. David, Nate, & Brenda go to Vegas for a funeral directors convention and David gets arrested for being with a male prostitute and is forced to call Keith for help. Nate confronts Gilardi about the house fire, which he found out Gilardi had started for the insurance money. Billy makes an unexpected arrival.
A Private Life ~The deceased: Marcus Foster, Jr., March 5, 1978 - June 5, 2001 ~The circumstances: while at an ATM, two young gay men are confronted by bullies. They chase Marcus down and beat and kick him. Steel toed boots won. ~The story: in the midst of the argument over the rights of gay people, David is forced to finally confess to Ruth he is gay. Keith is assigned special duty during the funeral. Rico and Vanessa have a new son. Brenda is forced to confront Billy about his obsessive behavior which leads to horrible results. She finally has him committed for his own safety and hers. Claire and Gabe continue their odd relationship.
Knock, Knock ~The deceased: Lillian Grace Montrose, October 4, 1936 - June 14, 2001 ~The circumstances: wrong place, wrong time … a wayward golf ball strikes Lillian in the temple. Ball won. ~The story: while on the golf course discussing business Gilardi and his superior, Mitzi Dalton Huntley, takes a wayward swing which lobs a golf ball right into the temple of Lillian Montrose. Lillian is the aunt of Tracy Montrose Blair, who visits funeral homes as a past time and has taken a shine to David. She arrives to make arrangements, all bustle and clipboards, but turns out to be a difficult client that is finally confronted by Rico.
Claire and Gabe attend a party and when he disappears for a while she wonders where he has gone. We discover he is robbing a convenience store and her father gives her an ominous message about his life expectancy. The priest at David’s church performs a Lesbian marriage and is confronted by the board, which forces David to admit he is gay. Hiram and Ruth have found other partners and Brenda and Nate go to visit Billy at the hospital. On the way home they are in an accident, with dire results for Nate.
Ruth decides she wants nothing further to do with Nikolai and he fires her.
The tightly knit group of actors in the main roles of this series include Justina Machado as Vanessa, Rachel Griffiths as Brenda, Michael C. Hall as David, Freddy Rodriquez as Rico, Lauren Ambrose as Claire, Frances Conroy as Ruth, Mathew St. Patrick as Keith, Richard Jenkins as Nathaniel, Peter Krause as Nate, Jeremy Sisto as Billy, Eric Balfour as Gabe, Ed O’Ross as Nikolai, Joanna Cassidy as Margaret [Brenda’s mother], Ed Begley, Jr. as Hiram, Robert Foxworth as Bernard [Brenda’s father], and Kathy Bates as Bettina.
There were many guest appearances which I won’t even bother to chronicle but believe me, you’ve never quite seen a series like this one.
The HBO television series SIX FEET UNDER, about the members of a dynamic Los Angeles-based family that operates the Fisher and Sons Funeral Home, has an ironically grim, but intriguing premise: each episode is based on the death and extenuating circumstances of the family's current client. When a porno star dies and is brought to Fischer and Sons, an entourage of her former costars appear to mourn her death. In another episode, the family must negotiate with tough Mexican-American gang members who have very specific requests for the funeral of one of their brethren. A sassy drama that is rife with black comedy, SIX FEET UNDER follows other HBO hit series like SEX IN THE CITY, THE SOPRANOS, and OZ. Alan Ball created the hit series after scoring a huge success with his original screenplay for AMERICAN BEAUTY. Ball has written and directed several of the 13 episodes that comprise this first season.