WHAT IS SIX FEET UNDER ABOUT?
A deliciously dark comedy/drama about life, death and personal relationships, all built around a funeral home in Los Angeles that is owned and operated by one highly dysfunctional family.
Original TV Home: HBO
Number Of Seasons: 5 (2001-2005)
Total Episodes / Time Table: 62 Episodes (approx. 45 to 60 minutes each) + Series Finale (72 minutes) = approx. 63 hours
Viewing Strategy: Seasons 1 to 3 each had 13 episodes. Seasons 4 and 5 each had 12 episodes. You can comfortably complete the series by watching three episodes per day (about 3 hours) for 21 days.
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WHO’S IN IT? Top Up arrow
Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Richard Jenkins. Also, a long and superb list of supporting players that includes: Jeremy Sisto, James Cromwell, Joanna Cassidy, Rainn Wilson, Eric Balfour, Ed O’Ross, Kathy Bates, Peter Facinelli, Ed Begley Jr., Robert Foxworth and Tina Holmes. Plus, there’s a list of guest stars who pop up in some mind-blowing cameo appearances.
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WHERE IS IT NOW? Top Up arrow
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WHY IS IT BINGE WORTHY? Top Up arrow
Six Feet Under won nine Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards and three Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as a Peabody Award, a Television Critics Association Award and several other honors. The series was not only one of the best TV shows ever made, it also offers a fantastic chance to see a pre-Dexter Michael C. Hall and a pre-Parenthood Peter Krause go at it as brothers from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Krause plays Nate Fisher, the black sheep of the family, who comes home for Christmas just in time to land smack dab in the middle of a big crisis. Hall plays David, the dependable, strait-laced younger son who has been working in the family funeral-home business for years and is struggling with more than one secret that he has been keeping from everyone.
Frances Conroy shines as Ruth, the timid matriarch of the clan who struggles to keep peace in the family while coping with her own personal issues. And Lauren Ambrose is captivating as Claire, the young sister who starts out as an awkward and troubled teenager trying to find her way in life.
Rounding out the core cast: Mathew St. Patrick as David’s friend/partner, Keith Charles; Rachel Griffiths as Brenda Chenowith, a shiatsu masseuse whose relationship with Nate clicks into high gear as soon as they meet in the series opener. Also noteworthy: Freddy Rodriguez as Federico Diaz, the young mortician who works for the Fishers and eventually becomes a partner in the business.
The complex depth and breadth of the core characters and their various relationships with friends and lovers are captivating right from the get-go. So, too, are various surreal scenes that mess with the imaginations of the show’s main characters, breaking down the wall between life and death by having live characters interact and converse with various dead ones.
Most of all, though, series creator/executive producer Alan Ball infuses the entire series with a “Ballsy” (pun intended) sense of humor. There’s a lot of emotion, passion, sex, nudity, bawdiness and coarse language. There’s also an abundance of stark contrasts with scenes that often turn on a dime, leaving you choked up, then guffawing – but always wanting more.
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MUST SEES … Top Up arrow
Technology has come a long way since this series first aired. Check out the ever-present flip phones and the VHS tapes that pop up here and there in the early seasons. They’re a big difference from iPods and Macintosh computers that show up in the final season.
Stylistically, the series has some interesting quirks. The first two seasons were shot in TV’s old 4:3 aspect ratio, while everything after that shows up in a widescreen, 16:9 format. There’s also the slow pace of the opening theme song and credit roll, which is quite different from present-day TV shows that don’t waste much time (if any) on opening credits. The series has a couple of other clever stylistic touches, like scenes fading out to white rather than black, emulating the notion of going toward the “white light” at the end of life. Another stylistic trademark: After the pilot, almost all of the episodes feature a “cold opening” scene that focuses on someone whose impending death usually provides business for the Fishers – and the thematic tone or secondary storyline for that episode. Each cold opening tends to end the same way, with a fade-out to a white card showcasing the deceased’s name and the years of his or her birth and death.
Thematically, it’s also notable that the first season aired in the summer of 2001, which was before the tragic events of 9/11. In the seasons after that, politics, the war in Iraq and other world developments come into play to fodder for commentary in the show’s scripts.
As for must-see episodes, check these out:
Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): The pilot episode features a handful of offbeat commercial spoofs that peddle funeral supplies like hearses, embalming fluid and wound filler. The fake commercials were dropped after the pilot, once the series got into its regular groove.
The Foot (Season 1, Episode 3), The New Person (Season 1, Episode 10) and The Last Time (Season 2, Episode 13) offer brief, quirky musical numbers that play into the surreal games filling the minds of the main characters.
Familia (Season 1, Episode 4) is particularly notorious for its memorable, eyebrow-raising scene in which Nate’s mom accidentally stumbles across him performing oral sex on his new girlfriend, Brenda, smack dab in the viewing room of the family funeral home.
An Open Book (Season 1, Episode 5) starts out with the accidental death of an adult-movie actress. Watch for a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh in a blond wig, playing a porn starlet who is one of the speakers at the funeral.
Twilight (Season 3, Episode 12) finds a pregnant Claire opting to get an abortion, asking Brenda for her help – and a ride.
All Alone (Season 5, Episode 10) is perhaps the most heart-wrenching episode of the entire series. It also features the most significant funeral of them all.
And last, but not certainly least … Everyone’s Waiting (Season 5, Episode 12) is a great series finale. And the closing sequence has to be one of the most brilliant series enders in TV history. As Claire drives off to begin a new life in New York City, things flash forward to the future to reveal the fate of each of the show’s other main characters. And, as might be expected, everyone dies in the end.
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MOST SHOCKING EPISODES Top Up arrow
Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): The opening sequence of the pilot episode is quick to deliver a jolt as family patriarch Nathaniel Fisher (Richard Jenkins) drives the family’s shiny new hearse to the airport to pick up Nate. It takes the show on a completely different path from what you might expect at first.
Perfect Circles (Season 3, Episode 1): Ball plays some huge mind games with viewers at the beginning of this one. It starts off with Nate in the operating room, undergoing major brain surgery. Given the scenes that follow, it sure seems that things didn’t go so well.
Ecotone (Season 5, Episode 9): It was always Nate’s point of view that was the main thread throughout the entire series – that is, until the unexpected twist at the end of this episode.
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THAT LINE WAS SO GREAT… Top Up arrow
“You’ve done a nice job,”
an old man says as he stands by his wife’s casket.
“She looks so peaceful.”
“Well, she is at peace now,”
a reassuring David Fisher replies.
“If there’s any justice in the universe,”
the widower concludes,
“she’s shoveling shit in hell.”
– From Six Feet Under – Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): It’s the very first funeral-visitation scene of the series – and a clear sign of the type of offbeat humor that will exist throughout all five seasons.
“I know stealing a foot is weird. But, hello, living in a house where a foot is available to be stolen is weird.”
– From An Open Book (Season 1, Episode 5): Claire Fisher, talking to her mom, Ruth, as they finally forge their unique, mother-daughter bond.
“It’s no accident you guys are undertakers. You take every fucking feeling you have, put it in a box and bury it.”
– From Familia (Season 1, Episode 4): Yup, Brenda’s words sum everything up pretty well.
“I’m just saying, you only get one life. There’s no God, no rules, no judgments, except for those you accept or create for yourself. And once it’s over, it’s over. Dreamless sleep forever and ever. So, why not be happy while you’re here?”
– From Static (Season 5, Episode 11): Nate explains the meaning of life and death to Brenda. By then, he really does know what he’s talking about.