MORIARTY Reviews SIX FEET UNDER, Season One!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I don’t think I’ve ever done this before... written a review of an entire season of a show at the end of it. Then again, I’ve never been moved to write one before, but having just seen the conclusion of the first 13 episodes of Alan Ball’s SIX FEET UNDER, I find myself eager to share some thoughts and impressions, and what began as a simple Talk Back has grown to fit the size of my esteem for what all involved have accomplished here.
This wasn’t a show I was hyped for. It wasn’t a show I went nuts for after one episode. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I thought of the show until the very end of tonight’s episode. Finally, the entire focus of the first season revealed, I fell in love with what was accomplished, and I have to commend Chris Albrecht for having the good sense to already greenlight the second season of episodes. He was able to sit down and see every one of these, in order, before making that call, and I totally understand why he gave Alan Ball and his collaborators the go-ahead. This wasn’t a show I expected, and that’s part of why I think it’s so amazing now, on this side of things.
When you’re writing a family show for television... and by that, I don’t mean a show for families to watch together, but rather a show about a family... it’s very tricky to predict what’s going to happen with the viewers and the family you’re portraying. Viewer sympathy is a fickle thing, and picking the breakout storylines, the ones that are going to keep viewers tuning back in, can be a tricky thing. THE SOPRANOS has been orchestrated so far with a keen intelligence, and I think the show’s held on strong creatively from season to season. Each year so far, David Chase has pushed his characters to unexpected places, and he’s kept us interested in Tony Soprano, an unlikely central figure for a series if I’ve ever seen one. THE SOPRANOS seems to have been a real turning point in the history of dramatic series for HBO. Before this, they’ve had great comedies. Hell, I’d put THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW up there as one of the five best sitcoms ever produced. But the dramas have only recently hit their stride. OZ is another strong example of what happens when a creator and primary writer is allowed to run a show with real creative freedom. Tom Fontana has taken us to some memorable corners of Hell on that show, and he never seems to blink, no matter how horrific the view.
It made sense to offer Alan Ball a series of his own. After all, AMERICAN BEAUTY was a sensation, a surprise box-office hit that also spun some serious Oscar gold. Ball himself went home with one of the statues, a real triumph for a guy who had been primarily known for his work on CYBILL previously. I maintain that AMERICAN BEAUTY is a remarkably made film, even if the script’s flaws have become evident with time and distance. Some of the cheapest moves in the film betray Ball’s sitcom background, like that ludicrous THREE’S COMPANY moment where Mr. Roper sees Wes Bentley giving Kevin Spacey a blowjob. I mean, Chris Cooper sees them. Oh, you know what I mean. That film is remarkable because Sam Mendes and Conrad Hall and that cast all came in and blew doors. Alan Ball caught that one perfect wave and rode it all the way in to shore.
I know there’s been a serious backlash against BEAUTY, and there are people that openly bash the film now. For that reason, I think some people dismissed SIX FEET UNDER quickly, calling it more of the same. Once again, Ball was looking at a repressed family, peeling back their secrets, and using homosexuality, sex, drugs, death, and other difficult topics to get laughs as well as tears. Seemed like he was going to do a weekly version of BEAUTY.
Here comes the heresy: I think SIX FEET UNDER is a much more accomplished piece of work than AMERICAN BEAUTY, all things considered. I think this is a lasting piece of work with something honest to say, something difficult, and I am both moved and impressed by what they’ve done.
“Six Feet Under”
written and directed by Alan Ball
I’ll admit, things got off to a rocky start. Set-ups are hard. This is where you have to lay out all these relationships, try and etch in just enough to get us hooked, and spin the beginnings of the story threads that are going to play out over the course of the entire season, or series, for that matter. First episodes are all about tone... character... why we should care and come back. As first episodes go, “Six Feet Under” was solid, if not spectacular.
Right away, my favorite convention of the show was established. Each week begins with the death of a character whose funeral is handled by Fisher & Sons, the funeral home that is the center of the show. Sounds ghoulish, and there were indeed a few jokes along the way, but death is not a glib thing on this show, and there were some sucker punches built in along the way as well. Right away, we’re introduced to Nathaniel Fisher, patriarch of the whole extended family, played by the great Richard Jenkins. He’s one of those character actors you’ve seen a grazillion times by now, but probably don’t know by name. He’s always good in anything he does, and he’s covered all the bases... comedy, drama, smart stuff, dumb fluff, mainstream and indie. The first time I totally flipped for him was in FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, David O. Russell’s inspired comedy from ’96. Almost a decade earlier, he had one of the best moments in George Miller’s muddled WITCHES OF EASTWICK adaptation, an image that’s stuck with me since. I like Jenkins, plain and simple, and my first reaction seeing him as Nathaniel was “Great! A show built around Jenkins! Finally! He’ll get his due like Gandolfini. I hope he gets really fam...” and that’s all I had time to think before Nathaniel and his brand new hearse get blindsided, killing him instantly.
Great move. Seriously. You’ve got a setting for this show that is already overripe with symbolism and dramatic opportunity, and the first thing Ball does is drop the one bomb on them that they might never recover from: a loss of one of their own. That’s how fucking high the stakes are going to get, he says, and I make you no promises. You like someone? Well, they just might die, so get used to it. He shatters this family, already so brittle and tense that they are barely able to function, and leaves the series to pick up the pieces.
One convention I’m glad they cut after that first episode was the wacky commercials for death related products. It made this feel like DREAM ON, another unfortunate nod back to Ball’s sitcom roots. There were a number of them in the pilot, and they just got in the way of us meeting the various Fishers as they all come together for Christmas Eve and to learn about Nathaniel’s death. There’s Nate, the prodigal son played by Peter Krause. There’s David, the heir apparent to the family business, also a closeted gay man still living with his parents, played by Michael C. Hall. There’s baby sister Claire, a sullen teen at the end of high school staring with doe eyes into the headlights of an oncoming future she isn’t ready for, played by Lauren Ambrose. Finally, there’s Ruth, the matriarch of the Fishers, cold and controlling on the outside but holding in a few secrets of her own, played by Frances Conroy. Unlike Herc, I have equal love for each of these freaks. I already liked Peter Krause from SPORTS NIGHT, and the rest of the cast struck me as perfectly chosen for their roles as the pilot played out. I especially liked Conroy right off the bat.
We also meet the people peripheral to their lives, all of whom become important later. There’s Keith (Matthew St. Patrick), the black policeman David is secretly dating. There’s Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), the stranger that Nate fucks in a broom closet after walking off a long flight. There’s Gabe (Eric Balfour), Claire’s date who has just gotten her to sample crystal meth for the first time when she gets the call about her father. There’s Hiram (Ed Begley, Jr.), the hairdresser that Ruth has secretly been sleeping with. And there’s Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez), the gifted mortician who works for the family, doing reconstructive work on the “clients” who come in. Ball doesn’t overexplain any of these people to us in their first few appearances. They are a supporting cast, and they’re used that way to great effect, supporting the Fishers as we get to know them. The pilot also sets up Garrison Hershberger as Matthew Gilardi of the Kroehner Corporation, a conglomerate that approaches David about buying out Fisher & Sons before they even have a chance to bury Nathaniel.
I love the way Krause and Hall work together in this first episode, in particular. They way they each view the burial process, the way they each get something totally different from it, and they way they clash so convincingly without pushing things over the top... if anything got me to come back for episode two, it’s this stuff. These guys seemed to be worth another look.
written by Christain Williams
directed by Manuel Ortega
If the first episode was rocky, the second one was worse. I didn’t like much about this outing except the very ending, in which Brenda pulls a horribly cruel trick on David and Nate that ends up being cathartic for them. She takes them onto a city bus, not telling them until they’re already riding that it’s the same bus line that blindsided their father. They have to deal with the sudden flood of emotion, and they have to depend on each other to make it through the moment. The majority of the episode deals with the reading of Nathaniel’s will and how he leaves half of the business to each of the guys, making them partners. It’s all plot mechanics stuff, and there’s a heavy hand to the way some of it is laid out. Same with Claire and Gabe. He talks her into sucking his toes, an odd moment that exists only to set up a plot explosion in the next episode. It doesn’t feel right when it happens, doesn’t feel natural. It leads directly into my least favorite episode, number three, which almost convinced me to stop watching the show.
written by Bruce Eric Kaplan
directed by John Patterson
Not a fan. Too wacky. Gilardi pressures the brothers to sell, then decides to open a funeral home across the street from them instead to drive them out of business. Gabe tells everyone about Claire sucking his toes, and she decides to get back at him by stealing a foot from the funeral home. This “stealing a foot” shtick was mentioned in a few episodes after this, and Lauren Ambrose always looked embarrassed to be mentioning it. It is the most out-of-character moment in the entire series, as bad a choice as the way Allison Janney’s character is played in AMERICAN BEAUTY, just wrong from the start.
written by Lawrence Andries
directed by Lisa Cholodenko
I’m a great admirer of HIGH ART, the feature film Cholodenko made, and she won me back over to the show with her moving, powerful episode of the show. A Mexican kid is killed at the beginning in a random bit of territorial violence, and his family and the gang he belonged to wrestle for control of just how he will be remembered. This was one of the first times the show made full use of Freddy Rodriguez, whose Federico is a strong character, not someone I’ve met in a dozen other shows. He serves as a go-between for the Fisher Brothers and the family and the gang. The way this episode builds to the funeral itself, and the gestures made during that funeral are all very affecting, and I didn’t mind the sort of hyperactive plot mechanics that kept intruding. There was great work in the episode, the promise of greatness lurking underneath, and I was finally hooked.
“An Open Book”
written by Alan Ball
directed by Kathy Bates
The series finally got underway with this episode, I felt, with the introduction of the rest of our principal cast and settings. David is nominated to become a deacon at the church he attends with his mother, and it’s important to him, even if Keith can’t understand it. By now, the struggle in David’s character was becoming a bit of a broken record (“Should I come out or shouldn’t I?”) and the introduction of church as a major part of his life surprised me. You can deal with sex in American entertainment, but you really can’t deal with religion. That’s where people get pissy.
We also get a chance to meet the rest of Brenda’s family finally, and it makes the Fishers look normal and ideal by comparison. Robert Foxworth and Joanna Cassidy show up as Bernard and Margaret Chenowith, and Jeremy Sisto shows up as Brenda’s brother Billy. Sisto deserves special attention for his performance in the series thus far. I remember seeing GRAND CANYON and thinking of him as a kid in his role as Kevin Kline’s son. Here, he seems thirty years older, totally worn out as a lifelong sufferer of bipolar disorder. It’s great work, as good as what Stanley Tucci did in MURDER ONE the first season. From the start, he knows what he’s doing, and he lays the groundwork well for later moments.
written by Christian Taylor
directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Nate learns that his father didn’t always accept money from clients. He begins to track down several special accounts to see what his father took instead, and his efforts eventually lead him to a rented room in a house somewhere, a private place no one knew about. In trying to imagine what might have happened there, in trying to piece things together from the evidence at hand, Nate realizes he may not have known anything about his father. Richard Jenkins is a blast in this one, and the various possibilities of what might have happened in that room are all realized beautifully by him. Krause does a good job with dawning horror here, too, as it hits him in waves: he knew nothing. Not a single thing.
This was the beginning also of the subplot Hercules The Strong labeled as “science-fiction,” the dual suitors of Ruth Fisher. She was already involved with Hiram (Begley Jr.) before Nathaniel’s death. Now she’s also being pursused by Nikolai (Ed O’Ross), one of the flower vendors for the home, a hulking Russian guy who flirts like a bear about to maul someone. I buy this storyline because, quite honestly, neither of these actors is Brad Pitt or even Robert Redford (Before... after! Before... after! Stay out of the sun, kids!). Hell, O’Ross reminds of Ben Grimm after he became The Thing. They are both drawn to Ruth’s few truly unguarded moments. She is a controlling character, but she’s not evil. She just doesn’t know any other way to be, and as her emotions find themselves unleashed, allowed to be expressed for the first time in however long, it’s not like something she just turns on and off. She has to remember how to be this better person, this open-minded woman she’s abandoned. I think Conroy just got better and better as the show went on and as they gave her more to do.
written by Christian Williams
directed by Jim McBride
Here’s a guy I really thought was going to have a big feature career. I remember liking the hell out of THE BIG EASY and GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, and I also remember that neither one was exactly a breakout hit. McBride had a great way with actors, though, and he managed to deliver one of the better episodes of the series. I liked the main storyline about a victim of Gulf War syndrome and his dying wish and the effects it has on his brother, who butts heads with the Fisher Brothers over how to handle things. Krause does some spectacular work in this one, both in the main storyline and in how his relationship with Brenda is progressing thanks to the involvement of Billy. David becomes more involved with the church. Nothing of any import happens to Claire. It’s not a major piece of the puzzle, but it’s strong writing and strong performing, and that’s what kept me tuning in.
written by Lawrence Andries
directed by Allen Coulter
For an episode called “Crossroads,” almost nothing happens in this one. It’s literally a midpoint episode, one where groundwork is laid for what happens in the last run of episodes. This part of a season is almost as difficult to pull off with grace as the start of a season.
“Life’s Too Short”
written by Christian Williams
directed by Jeremy Podeswa
It seems that the best episodes in the series were directed by talented indie directors brought in to lend their touch to one particular episode. Poeswa made a very nice film that almost no one saw called THE FIVE SENSES, and his episode of the show was particularly rough, emotionally raw. Gabe, a character who went missing after the start of the season and the awful “The Foot” episode, shows back up when his kid brother shoots and kills himself. Gabe turns to the Fishers as his mother (Wendy Schaal) falls apart. This finally sets things in motion for Claire to have something to do for the rest of the season, and both Balfour and Ambrose are good. They’re given some awkward material at times, but they manage to find something true in it and in the way they behave with each other.
David’s self-hate also really begins a downward spiral in this episode, and I’ve heard criticism from some gay friends about how Ball handles this material. David daydreams. He has fantasies that are given vivid, even musical expression on the show. One friend called the show “an abomination,” but I can’t agree. Ball has said that he didn’t come out until very late in life, and his experience as a closeted adult might be very different from that of my openly-gay friends. David does some wildly unsafe things over the span of the first season, but he also shows remorse. He is not sure why he does the things he does. He doesn’t want to be even more unhappy with his life and his choices than he already is. His sexuality makes him miserable, but the rest of his life doesn’t make him any happier. I think Michael C. Hall did a credible, interesting job of making David real over the course of what we’ve seen so far, and he’s made him recognizable to anyone, understanable and sympathetic even when he’s wrong.
“The New Person”
written by Bruce Eric Kaplan
directed by Kathy Bates
I’m torn on my opinion of Illeana Douglas and her work here. On the one hand, I love Douglas; always have. She’s an original, and I always respond to her onscreen. On the other hand, her character mainly exists to replace Rico, who leaves the Fishers to work for Kroehner, who is still trying to put them out of business, and to make one crucial mistake that gives Ruth a piece of information that sets off a whole chain of events. It’s like she’s built just to be able to make that moment happen. Still... it’s a nice performance, and she pulls off the moment when she outs David by accident to Ruth, who had no idea.
Sisto’s work begins to get really good here, as Billy’s photo exhibition opens and Nate feels threatened by something that Brenda sees as totally harmless. That difference in perception becomes key to how episodes 12 and 13 play out, and it’s subtle work, showing a more nimble hand at hiding exposition as the series really picks up speed.
written by Rick Cleveland
directed by Michael Engler
A trip to Las Vegas brings several emotional arcs to a head: Nate and Brenda realize that Billy may be more than just a frustration, but might in fact be an actual menace. David is arrested having sex with a boy-whore in a parking garage just hours after having a real breakthrough in his handling of the Kroehner situation. While the brothers are at the Funeral Directors Convention, Ruth has a breakthrough of her own in a floral arrangements class. It’s my favorite work from Conroy in the whole first batch of episodes, especially the moment where she does her first successful arrangement. In that particular moment, Conroy projects such youthful joy that it’s easy to picture who Ruth must have been when she got married, when she was just starting out. It’s literally revelatory work.
Claire and Gabe also seem to reach some deeper level of understanding in the wake of his attempted suicide by OD. Ambrose seems like an emotional veal in her work here, like she was raised in a box, completely cut off from emotion, just now making her first awkward attempts to reach out to someone, not sure how to do it or what she’s going to get in return. She makes this stuff work somehow.
And Freddy Rodriguez gets his best material of the series here as well as Rico returns to work for Fisher & Sons just in time to have to prepare a six week old baby who died of SIDS. As he does so, he basically counts down the hours till the impending birth of his own son, and he finds himself devastated by the tiny corpse he works on. The entire storyline having to deal with the infant’s death is exceptionally well-handled, and the end of this episode really hit me hard. It was a perfect set-up for the final two episodes, shown back to back on the final night.
“A Private Life”
written by Kate Robin
directed by Rodrigo Garcia
written and directed by Alan Ball
These final two episodes really work as one piece. The first one opens with the most unsettling death of the entire series, a gaybashing that gets incredibly violent, leaving one young man’s skull crushed in. In dealing with this young man’s funeral arrangements and facial reconstruction, David finally finds himself wrestling with the very question of who he is and why he is and how he’s going to live. Michael C. Hall really shines in these final two episodes as he finally embraces his nature and reveals himself to his mother, his church, his community as a whole. There is a joy in his work here, tempered with very real fears, that makes you root for David. He isn’t perfect at the end of the second episode. He’s nowhere near perfect. But at least he’s finally able to put a name to himself, and he’s able to wear that name with something akin to pride instead of shame for the first time.
The triangle between Billy, Brenda, and Nate all comes to a head as well, and I cannot say enough good about all three of these performers. Rachel Griffiths has, in some ways, the most thankless role on the show. She’s asked to be moody, difficult, impossible to understand, yet we are obviously supposed to find something in her to explain Nate’s attraction to her. Griffiths is able to show us that side of Brenda, the funny, lusty, earthy woman who makes all that other behavior worth putting up with. Sisto finally tips over from threatening to dangerous, and he does so without falling back on any easy psycho tricks. The show employed a consultant specifically on the issue of bipolar behavior, and Sisto’s rants aren’t Hollywood hokum so much as they are a look at how strange a loved one’s face can be when a disease gets hold of them and they can’t help themselves. In the final moments between Sisto and Griffiths in a hospital, there is volumes of subtext that they both manage to convey with ease and grace.
And Krause... ah, Krause. This guy better be around for a hell of a long time, and he’d better start getting good film work soon. He’s got an emotional honesty on film that can’t be topped, he knows how to sell any comic line you give him, and he’s a great talk show guest, as anyone who saw him explain The Sordid Tale Of The Puppet Wagon on THE DAILY SHOW can attest. Krause is the one who tipped things over for me in these last two episodes. I believed everything he did, and I understood it, and I found myself completely invested in this guy. When he’s told that he may have a serious health issue and he can’t accept it, I found myself wishing it with the same fervor as him. No, don’t let it be true. You’ve got the wrong X-ray. It’s all a mistake. Nate’s fine, goddamn you. Nate’s fine. And as he moved through the rest of the episode, he nailed each beat. His proposal to Brenda, his quiet reconciliation with David... these are heartbreaking moments, and Nate can’t help but crack, that perfect calm of his finally giving away to almost unchecked emotion. As the episode ends and he stands watching his family celebrating the christening of Rico’s baby, it’s as if it wasn’t Nathaniel who died, but Nate, and this is Heaven, perfect if for just one moment.
And that’s when it hit me. That’s when I realized what this entire season has been about. Not death or dying or learning to live with death or how to handle loss or anything like that. No... this season has been about healing. It’s been about fumbling towards some sort of salvation in a world that seems to be filled with nothing but pain and danger and opportunities to be torn apart. Love heals. Family heals. Faith heals. I believe these things because I am living through them right now. I have fallen in love for the first time in as long as I can remember, and I spend part of each day terrified of that. There’s a part of me that was so broken, so hurt at one point, that I never thought I’d ever give myself up again. But we do. We have to. That healing is part of the process, part of life. And having the balls to say that and show that and believe that is an uncommon thing in the largely cynical world of pop entertainment. Ball dares to believe that things can get better for any of us. He dares to believe that sometimes it’s enough to say the right thing and be right in what you believe and that sometimes, good is enough. He dares to paint flawed people who aren’t easily fixed, who don’t solve all their problems in a single hour or even in thirteen of them. He has the faith in us to hold up a mirror to some of the worst angels of our nature, hoping that we will recognize the flaws as the things that make us human, seeing past them to the things that make us the same.
And over the course of this thirteen hour trip with these people, I find that I give a shit. I want Nate to live. I want David to find happiness. I want Rico and his wife to raise that baby right. I want Brenda to find peace in a life outside of Billy and those fucked-up parents of hers. I want Ruth to be with the right man, even if he’s no one she knows yet. I give a shit what happens, and that’s all I ask when I invest my time and my heart into a show or a film or a book. I just want to care about what it is I’m spending my time and my brain cells on. I want to know that someone else cared first. And I believe that Alan Ball cares very, very deeply for these people. Because of that, I have permission to care with equal abandon. I will be back next season, and I’m glad this show will, too.
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Aug. 20, 2001, 6:16 a.m. CST
I like The Sopranos, The Practice, Boston Public, Ed, and a few others, but Six Feet Under... I think I love. The writing for this show is amazing and the characters are some of the best I have ever seen. In fact, Six Feet Under could end up becomming one of the greatest dramas to ever grace the small screen. Siz Feet Under is brave, bold, and original. It pulls no punches and deals with issues that people face every day. Oh, and I am so glad that it's on HBO, becasue they won't f*ck it up next season. HBO will let Ball do what he pleases and that pleases me. I am just sad that the first season's run is over so soon. I do hope that they don't take too long to get season two on the air. And oh, its kind of a shame that Six Feet Under debuted after the Emmy deadline, as it just might have won Best Drama. I am afraid that the first season will be forgotten come nomination time next year.
Aug. 20, 2001, 6:44 a.m. CST
I haven't missed a minute of this series so far, and I hope I never will. Moriarty summed it up perfectly- you can and will give a shit about these people. You will sometimes have to remind yourself that it's only a story when things get so real and so awful that you don't want to handle it....
Aug. 20, 2001, 7:31 a.m. CST
A very insightful analysis, from my favorite megalomaniacal mad genius. While I know that comparisons between SFU and the Sopranos are, by now, trite
Aug. 20, 2001, 8:35 a.m. CST
Despite its stellar first season, THE SOPRANOS (IMO) is already showing signs of OZism -- a series spiraling out of control, losing all sense of logic and reality as HBO demands more and more outlandish and bizarre twists and turns to maintain shock value and "new"ness. (Hey, #1 Pay Channel! Just cuz you CAN do pretty much anything without censorship or backlash doesn't mean you should!) SIX FEET UNDER, on the other hand -- while still being new and unique and often as shocking as anything ever shown on television -- maintains a dignity and grace that is almost completely absent anywhere else on the Tube of Boobs. This show has moved me to tears a couple times now (most recently when Rico's wife delivered and he realized his baby was healthy, and again when Nate cracked a bit following David's thank-you at the end of the season finale) and it never ceases to stun me, smack me and thrill me with its devotion to characters, to realistic behavior, to intelligent storylines... to LIFE. The whole thing was so beautifully summed up by Nate: "Death is the thing that makes life important." Bravo to a magnificent new series, and here's hoping Alan Ball can fly in the face of HBO and keep his series grounded in logic and reality in its sophomore season. It can't get here soon enough. Emmys all around!!
Aug. 20, 2001, 8:58 a.m. CST
by The Alienist
I really like "Six Feet Under". I might, at times, love it. But I'm always aware that it's an HBO drama, therefore, presumed better than a network show. What I mean is...when a bad premium cable show is bad, it's acknowledged as such. But when it's good--it seems to be perceived as being the best fucking thing on television EVER!! I know, it's "Sopranos"-damage. But that's not fair. "Sopranos" uses the adult medium of a pay cable channel to create something different than your usual network show. I don't mean the swearing or the naked tits at The Bing or (in "Six"'s case) David butt-fucking a hustler in a parking lot. The very conceit of "The Sopranos" is almost movie-like, a continuing drama that actually dares us to get attached to basically unlikable protagonists. The writing, the acting, the direction of "Six Feet Under" is at times wonderful. But never as cosistantly good as "Once And Again", the ABC family drama all current family dramas have to now be measured against. It's detractors call it a "Woman's Show". Huh? I won't even go to that particular misogynistic place. But to my point, "Six" is no better than "Once". Not as good even. "Six" can show things and deal with things that "Once" can't or chooses not to. And that should, of course, color some people's preferences. But no way is "Six" better (meaning the best show on TV other than "Sopranos"). I could go into how much more defined the adults are on "Once", how more fluid and real the teens are (though I love Lauren Ambrose and her Claire more than life itself). But I won't. It's just so obvious I don't really have to. Yes, I can see how many prefer "Six". And it is sometimes wonderful. But just because it's on cable and can use the word "fuck" doesn't automatically make it better than the best network-type shows.
Aug. 20, 2001, 9:04 a.m. CST
I mean think about it. Sooner or later you are gonna die. And before you do, 2 or 3 people whom you can't imagine living without are gonna die. We all know this, it's like this big pink elephant in the middle of the room that we're all pretending ain't there. And I think Claire's whole conversation with her counselor about how her family deals with death, and how that becomes the way they deal with all emotions, that's the center of the show right there. Because its really just an exxageration of how we all deal with death. I loved that episode where Brenda was taking...um...the guy (I'm awful with names) around to funeral homes pretending to be customers. When Brenda started doing that cancer routine, I just cracked up. Its a subject that's so fucked up the only way to aproach it is as comedy. The funniest show on TV. >>> Btw, I loved the Sopranos finale. Didn't you think it was cool that they totaly ditched the whole formula of having life divided into neat little story arcs that all pay off at the same time?
Aug. 20, 2001, 9:39 a.m. CST
Everyone go read THE LOVED ONE by Evelyn Waugh - especially you, Moriarty - and then tell me how original you think this series is. SIX FEET UNDER's entire comic/tragic tone, specific satire and setting are lifted directly from this short, piercing novella. Sigh.
Aug. 20, 2001, 10:28 a.m. CST
The first season of Six Feet Under was considerably better than the 3rd season of The Sopranos. With The Sopranos, it felt like you were always waiting for the other shoe to drop, that something was missing. And I'm not talking about the rampant violence absent from season 3, but the fact the story didn't really go many places, it left me with a feeling of dissapointment. Sure, a few story lines moved forward, but it felt like I was watching a bunch of B-Plots develop while the greater whole somehow stagnated. The focus of season 3 was different than the previous two, but they never really pulled it off. I think it is comparable to the horrid season 5 of Babylon 5 where every week you told yourself that *next* week you would see things start to move forward. But they never did. Six Feet Under was able to sustain the story without relying on huge, dramatic, blow-ups (if you will excuse the pun) and leave you feeling satisifed while failing to tie up every little thread at the end of the hour like some cheap network sitcom would.
Aug. 20, 2001, 10:34 a.m. CST
Got it on tape, in fact. It's a favorite of mine. Now, again, I haven't read Waugh's story, but based on seeing the film, your accusation is completely off base. There are some similarities in tone and subject matter, but 6'U is an entirely different creature.
Aug. 20, 2001, 11:02 a.m. CST
by Ice Tray
Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Larry Sanders.....granted HBO produces a lot of amazing shows, but everyone here seems to be forgeting about the best show of them all...and its not even on HBO, i'm of course talking about The West Wing, which is like watching a movie every week. What Sorkin writes for each episode is more thought out and better acted than anything HBO has ever produced. WEST WING is the best show on television, so stop kissing HBO's ass because they are allowed to swear and show tits, if you want that, go rent a porno, but if you want great television, watch the West Wing. OH and if Sopranos wins best show, it will be a horrible mistake.
Aug. 20, 2001, 11:32 a.m. CST
The way the Talk Backs are going, we seem to be comparing Six Feet Under to the Sopranos, which I'm not sure is fair because they're two completely different animals. But what the hell, I'm going to do it anyway. For me, it came down to how I felt after watching each episode and how I felt after each series' complete 13-week run. More often than not, The Sopranos in its third season left me feeling empty. Unsatisfied. Like I'd missed something or something else was supposed to happen. Each episode and the series itself, felt like it was missing a third act. There were exceptions like the episode in which Dr. Melfi was raped, which was as powerful as anything that has been on television, but all in all I found the third year of the Sopranos lacking. It's like David Chase said "Fuck closure!" and just ended each episode however he damn well pleased. Some people may prefer that style of storytelling. After all, how many times does real life provide us with closure? Six Feet Under, on the other hand, was just as gripping as The Sopranos and, both along the way and in the end, more satisfying. There was an end to the journey of the characters. Points were made about life and death that could be thought about and talked about. The show almost never left me intellectually or emotionally hanging. There were times when I had to suspend disbelief more than others (Billy snapping the photos in the hotel room without Nate and Brenda knowing...almost anytime any character would drive anywhere...honestly, is it that difficult to take the actors out on the road for real and ditch the fake sitcom backgrounds which always jarred me back into the realization that I was watching a show?) but all in all, Six Feet Under sucked me into its world and left me without having felt cheated to have cared about the characters. Too often with both television and movies these days, you get the feeling that respect for the audience is a thing of the past. I felt like Alan Ball respected the hour I gave him each week and rewarded me for it rather than trying to sucker me into giving him my 8 bucks (or in this case an HBO subscription). Best show on TV? As much as I love West Wing, Buffy, Angel, Ed and Once & Again, I'd have to say yes. -- Sean
Aug. 20, 2001, 11:43 a.m. CST
I think HBO may owe me a fee- I have turned many a person on to SFU. Dragged them kicking and screaming but once that take it in they, like myself, really start to enjoy one of the better shows on TV (and they are very few of those). Bravo to the SFU team on the final two episodes- the 1st being nicely dark and serious and the 2nd being strangely upbeat and "quirky". While the show sometimes has a hard time finding a decent middle ground with the real dark and depressing episodes and the lighter moments it has enough of the decent stories, good direction, and nice acting to make up for it. Nice Job Moriarity- makes up for giving JP3 a good review= ugh ! :) MTFBWY! Aj :P
Aug. 20, 2001, 1:53 p.m. CST
I've been hooked on 6FU for 3 months and the characters are what will have kept me coming back. David is a newfangled George Bailey for our generation, left behind to take care of the shop, slightly self hating but in love with God and determined to do the right thing. And Nate, the prodigal son who returns home just in time to get drafted into the family biz, dragged into a career and a romance kicking and screaming, but still determined to do the right thing, too. I love these two guys. ** When Nate stood there at the end, smiling at his flock like Tony Soprano, I felt his peace, and I felt SO satisfied by the relationships I've had with these people, and the way I've seen them grow this pasrt summer. When has a tv show been this fuckn good? Twin Peaks maybe? I'm very pleased that a second season has been ordered up, and I'll be there with bells on. Emmys all round!! Fuck the West Wing and the Sopranos and all that shit! (P.S. fuck 30something, too!!!)
Aug. 20, 2001, 2:45 p.m. CST
by Immortal Alice
Wow! I've been glued to this show since it's first episode, and SINCE that first episode I haven't noticed a thing about it on AICN!! What gives? SFU is easily the best show on cable and second only to Buffy on my must see list, but each week I see Talk-Backs about virtually every other show on TV. I mean, we are REALLY grasping at straws when a James Marsters appearence on the VH1 Outer Limits rip off merits a headline! Cheers to Moriarty for a well done review of the season, but jeers to AICN for not celebrating this wonderfully quirky series with the same aplomb they would attribute to a Babylon 5 reunion special.
Aug. 20, 2001, 4:14 p.m. CST
Along with the opening death scene, I always look forward to the dead talking to David and the Father still having conversations with everyone. Everyone is shocked to see him standing there but then they seem like "oh it's you, my deceased father/husband" as he comments on their life. It's strange how every member of the family sees him seperately, no one talks about it, and they just takje it in stride like it's a perfectly natural situation. I know it's symbolic of them imagining what he'd say in each situation, but it's not portrayed that way. The look of surprise on their faces says, it's really happening.
Aug. 20, 2001, 5:15 p.m. CST
I got hooked on Six Feet Under the day I got HBO -- the same Saturday they ran the marathon of the first four episodes. I'm not a fan of American Beauty, so I went in a skeptic; but I emerged feeling perhaps Alan Ball isn't so overrated, after all. Today, I can say the SFU is one of my favorite shows on TV. Ever. I love the actors, the characters, the plots, fantasy sequences -- the list goes on. BUT...as the season wrapped up, I began to get a nagging feeling of annoyance -- the same feeling I had at the end of American Beauty. The writing became smug. Characters would act and react in their particular ways, then explain their motivations, ad nauseum. This was especially true of the season's final hour, written and directed by Mr. Ball. I hope that as they ramp up for season II, Ball and his team realize they don't have to patronize their audience (especially this audience) by spoon-feeding us the themes and political agendas -- many of which are disappointingly facile (i.e. bashing the Catholic church -- yawn). Let the characters be themselves -- not explain themselves. Trust us, please. We get it.
Aug. 20, 2001, 7:37 p.m. CST
Yeah, well, I've not seen the show, so I could be wrong. But refering to someone (Nate) as "prodigal" simply because he left the family business is a misnomer. Prodigal means one who is rashly or wastefully extravagant, and has nothing to do with being a family's black sheep. Anyway, that's my nit pick.
Aug. 20, 2001, 8:36 p.m. CST
When I first heard about the show before it started, I couldn't wait to see it. On one hand, being a licensed mortician I was concerned the show was going to be hokey or put the profession in a bad light.... on the other, I was interested in how they would deal with the subject matter and give others a small glimpse of what it is we do in funeral service. For the most part, the show has been fairly accurate. It's easy for those of us in the profession to pick it apart and say of a certain scene or situation, "There's no way they would do that." Some things I chalk up to "Well, maybe that's how they would do (whatever) in L.A." Regarding the cast, they're all great, especially Peter Krause. Overall, it's been a trip going into work on Mondays and talking about the previous night's show. Can't wait for Season 2....
Aug. 21, 2001, 5:22 a.m. CST
... isn't just that he comes and talks with different members of the family -- he provides a great mirror into themselves. I don't think they're so much imagining what HE HIMSELF would actually say to them (an idea borne out by the cold-hearted way he told Claire "he'll be coming over to my side pretty soon" in the finale). He provides a means for them to talk to THEMSELVES -- the things he says are most likely reflections of their own feelings, their own uncertainties -- played out as dialogue through his presence. I love his appearances, and wish they'd use more of him. The brief glimpses into his past life with Ruth and the kids is also fascinating. Richard Jenkins remains a great character actor! Go, father of LITTLE NIKITA, go! ;)
Aug. 21, 2001, 6:06 a.m. CST
The beauty of the HBO series is not just in the fact that they can say fuck and get away with it, it's the fact that they can deal with any subject material they want, and not have to answer to any sponsors who are afraid it might alienate some consumers. Auntonomy baby. Real art. That's what has made "The Sopranos", "Sex and the City", "The Larry Sanders Show", "Mr. Show", and "Dennis Miller Live" consistently some of the best TV on TV. And plus, it's a really nice break from having to sit through 15 minutes of commercials for every hour of programming. Oh, and "Six Feet Under" gets my vote for the best of the lot.
Aug. 21, 2001, 6:41 a.m. CST
hey! Just read your review of the first season of Six Feet Under! I agree with you completely! I find this show to be SO well written, The intelligence factor here is way above average, and the cast of characters are addicting!! I , like You, am really looking forward to the next season of this really cool show! Thanks, Donna
Aug. 21, 2001, 12:28 p.m. CST
Network TV has the potential to be really good if it weren't for censorship, advertising and ratings. HBO makes the same amount of money on a show regardless of how many people watch it. I think HBO's revenues have probably increased since they started producing really top knotch original programming, in so far as people who didn't have HBO subscribing for that very reason. I might lead a sheltered upper-middle class suburban existence but in my group of friends most of them had HBO, and these are the kind of people that the shows are aimed at, I think. I think the reason a particular show might get shitcanned is if people flat out hate it and then it's taking up a time slot that could be filled by a new breakout hit. I agree with those saying Peter Krause really steals the show, as he relentlessly kicks ass from episode to episode and often just blows his opposite actors right off the screen. As for Alan Ball and the American Beauty thing, I liked it when it first came out, still like it today, but agree the saving grace of that flick was Sam Mendes powerful direction. He elevated what was just a good script into something really masterful, despite those who say otherwise. It wasn't the best picture of 99, nearly everyone agrees with that, and I'm still angry that Fight Club was completely snubbed that year. Six Feet Under really made up for the disappointing third season of the Sopranos, which carried on too many useless plot lines and had only two or three episodes I felt were on a par with the previous two seasons. I hope that Six Feet Under has a long and distinguished run, and that they keep bringing in the really talented writers and directors to do the show. Also, on Dennis Miller Live I remember Alan Ball saying that they were waiting for the second season to delve into the concept of necrophilia. Fun stuff coming up!
Aug. 21, 2001, 5:45 p.m. CST
by Sara Goldfarb
You are wise beyond your years.
Aug. 21, 2001, 9:05 p.m. CST
To continue the West Wing vs. SFU thread, it seems to me that a few key elements have gone unexplored. First off I have to say that what grabs me most isn't just the number of great shows on HBO, but the unbelievable percentage of their total shows that achieve such high quality. Consider that the network currently airs only eight original non-sports/news programs (SFU, Sopranos, Oz, Sex and the City, Dennis Miller Live, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arli$$, and the upcoming Mind Of A Married Man). Of these only one is a total stinker (I won't name names, but lets just say that it rhymes with "Barless"), and two of them are favorites to take home an Emmy this year. Can you even imagine NBC or another one of the nets having that kind of success rate. While it can be pointed out that the nets have to fill up a set number of time slots, where as HBO can pick and choose when to air a new show, compare the HBO line up to the limited air time that WB aand UPN had to fill when they began. Even the worst that HBO has to offer beats the Hell out of Homeboys in Outer Space or Savanah. As far as the continued assertion that HBO's edge is its ability to swear and show tits, there are two obvious pincushions to burst that balloon. First is a little pay cable network that goes by the name of Showtime. The same lack of censorship and freedom from advertisers apply there. And yet in the four or five years that they have been putting out original programing the only show can be considered even moderately succesful is Stargate SG1. Secondly, the amount of nudity in SFU is probably lower than an average season of NYPD Blue. The only scenes that I can think of that would be clearly cut by a network thought nazi were the porno queen's boobs when she gets fried in her tub, and David's lap dance/cowboy ride in Vegas, hardly a rehash of the Red Shoe Diaries. While I personally think that West Wing is just slightly better tha SFU and the Sopranos, try finding a broadcast network that has as many good show as HBO. Compare HBO's four best shows to NBC's or CBS's. Its not even a close race. For every Buffy there's a Nikki, for every Ed there's a Jesse. And for every Once & Again there's a Dharma & Greg. Now if they'd just stop showing Battlefield Earth so damn much.
Aug. 22, 2001, 3:01 a.m. CST
The reason why viewers and reviewers are so superlative in their praise of HBO shows is because of the stunning amount of predigested, prefab crap that's on the networks and basic cable. It can't help but make HBO fare look stunning in comparison. For once, though, and as much as I love Sopranos and Sex And the City, Six Feet Under deserves all the praise it's getting and more. It has to be one of the best shows I've ever seen in my life, and continues to shock and amaze me with it's subtlety, grace, and ironic humor. I cannot understand the comparison to Once And Again - I tried very hard to watch that show and was bored to tears, and I wanted to like it because I worship Sela Ward and love that she's getting success, but honestly, it put me to sleep. The closest match that I could think of in terms of a large ensemble cast who sets up shop in one's soul in the same way SFU has would be Northern Exposure. Ultimately, though, I think very few TV programs, if any, compare to SFU - you'd have to go to the big screen to find likely counterparts. I cannot think of any other television show that is this quiet, this devoid of action, cheap theatrics, and mawkish sentimentality, that deals only on the character's inner lives and relationships, to the exclusion of anything else. It's almost soap operish in its intense focus on the characters and their struggles, without resorting to cheap plot devices to create drama.
Aug. 22, 2001, 8:11 a.m. CST
In spite of myself, I am totally addicted to SFU. I and my wife started off sneering at the characters and their personalities/reactions as "unbelievable," but by the end of Season 1, we would probably watch each episode three times to make sure we didn't miss anything. It's a testament to the quality of the show. The only tired old cliche included in the show is the Christian=uptight, hateful, evil vs. Humanist=centered, sympathetic, accepting paradigm. Borrrring. To a one, these characters accept/need zero outside spiritual guidance and the one who accepts that he may not be the all-knowing master of his own private universe, David, is made to suffer for thinking so. So, this show has an agenda, and I don't agree with it. I guess, who cares? I'm still not going to miss an episode. It's like a beautiful train wreck I can't stop staring at. And we still root for Keith and David.
Aug. 22, 2001, 9:26 a.m. CST
Moriarty, First of all, I've been reading your reviews for quite some time...they are outstanding. Keep up the good work. However, I was distressed to see that your review skimmed over one of the best aspects of the show, namely the character dialogue writing. Specifically, I refer to the character of Brenda. The scenes where she and Nate travelled from home to home to "investigate" their technique was phenomenal...especially her brush with cancer. Her lines are constantly and consistently outstanding...hell, my crew has already named her the ultimate girlfriend. Just my opinion. Gabriel
Aug. 22, 2001, 9:38 a.m. CST
by Sandy NYC
When I watch Six Feet Under it makes me wonder why the rest of the stuff on TV just plain sucks. The Sopranos has its ups and downs, Sex and the City is just all right, Larry David is funny in an annoying kinda way and Oz just lost its way. The rest of TV is so bad it doesn't even make sense to comment on. It doesn't even have to be in the least controversial. Just more interesting and maybe resemble real life just a little.
Aug. 22, 2001, 4:26 p.m. CST
I have been hearing about this show for months and months but unfortuately dont have HBO, and had never seen an episode until last Tuesday. I found a guy at work had been taping them and though I have only seen a few episodes since then, I love the show, the writing and the characters. I cant wait to see more episodes.Its not often that shows like this make on the air. If this had been on network television it would be gone by now, face it. Dramas with a deep subject matter dont usually last very long. You got St. Elsewhere, China Beach, Thirtysomething and Homicide who through their entire run hung on by a threat so its refreshing that this show is not only getting great viewership, but also good press and renewal for a Second Season. After a frustrating Summer of movies with shallow characters and Special Effects over plot, its good to see something with subsance, ya know? I hope these are released on DVD so I can add them to my collection.
Aug. 22, 2001, 6:16 p.m. CST
Best Series- Drama (of course- but i don't know if it will be considered drama or comedy, most likely drama) Best Actor- Drama (Peter Krause, I don't know wheter Michael C. Hall would be considered the lead actor or Peter Krause) Best Actress- Drama (Frances Conroy) Best Supporting Actor- Drama (Michael C. Hall, Jeremy Sisto (<-without a doubt), Freddy Rodriguez(<- I never would have considered Freddy Rodriguez had I not seen the episode with the baby)) Best Supporting Actress- Drama (Lauren Ambrose (<-again, without a doubt), possibly Rachel Griffiths) Best Guest Appearance- Male (old black guy from that episode who I'm pretty sure was in The Shining) Best Guest Appearance- Female (Illeana Douglas <- that was the most I ever laughed at the show) Various writing and directing awards, cinematography, bla, bla, bla. The finale was one of the most deeply moving moments of my life. The season finale was the best thing ever put on television. Love, Peace, and Chicken grease, SadPanda
Aug. 23, 2001, 4:44 a.m. CST
Can I just say I am so freakin' happy that Peter Krause is being recognized?!?! My favorite show was SPORT'S NIGHT (until it got unfairly canceled...) and he was my favorite part of the show as Casey McCall. The only reason I tuned in to watch SFU was because I saw a commercial and i recognized him...now I love the show, and what the show can now bring to his career--it can bring him to us, the viewers. I agree with you, Moriarty, that he deserves those great film roles. You don't understand how excited I am that he's finally getting around to people!
Aug. 23, 2001, 2:24 p.m. CST
My experience with Six Feet Under seems very much like yours. I ignored it at its debut, being one of those who disliked American Beauty. But when 2 on-line friends started talking about it, I decided to watch the 4-hour catch-up repeat, just so I could join in. The early episodes had everything that turned me off American Beauty, everything that happens when a sitcom writer decides to Get Deep: cliched shallowness disguised with pretentiousness. But something about the characters held me and I kept watching. Now, even though I still see the flaws (e.g. the maddeningly inconsistent portrayal of the Chenoweth family), I'm a full-fledged fan. The core actors are as good as can be found on TV. I've been told that the reason we've never seen Michael C. Hall before now is that he's been strictly a stage actor. This is the first time he's been in front of a camera. Amazing. Lauren Ambrose takes all the cliche out of Ball's penchant for seeing all the goodness and wisdom in the universe in sullen teenage girls. Just watch how she plays the scenes with her guidance counselor in episode 12. You get the feeling there's no telling how large her talent is. And you're on the money about Peter Krause, an actor who's so good that nobody seems to give him credit for it. He's going to be one of those performers who, a few years from now, people are going to wake up to and say, "Why doesn't Peter Krause ever win awards or get named to Best Actor lists. He's better than all those guys."
Aug. 23, 2001, 9:22 p.m. CST
by Jack D. Ripper
The depiction of the Chenowith family is the most glarring flaw on "Six Feet Under"'s otherwise remarkable canvas. Billy and Brenda are just unlikable, unsympathetic fuck-ups, and are mostly intolerable. While both Griffiths and Sisto are fine performers, I must disagree with Moriarty's comments on their respective roles. Billy's a black hole whenever he's on screen, screaming all of his crazy bullshit in a performance that is not at ALL nuanced, and Brenda's just an irritating cunt who mercilessly mindfucks Nate whenever possible. Griffiths does NOT show us the side of Brenda worth fighting for, becuase that side isn't even WRITTEN! Nothing about that woman, other than her looks, is appealing, and I was PRAYING when Billy showed up, and later, when they had that car wreck, that Brenda would DIE so that Season 2 would be Brendaless. Unfortunatly I didn't get my wish. I think Krause is a remarkable actor, but I'm dissapointed that he's seemingly attatched to Griffiths at the hip. The other Fishers(Conroy, Hall and Ambrose)all get to do things independent of their romantic leads, while Nate's just saddled with all sorts of crazy shit. This plotline's the least believable because, realistically, no ONE is going to put up with as much shit as Brenda dishes out when there are basically NO pros for doing so. Any real person, ESPECIALLY one as strong and forceful as Nate is the rest of the time would have dropped her tired ass long ago. The only explanation? That boy's whipped? WH-CHI!
Aug. 24, 2001, 6:23 a.m. CST
can someone please tell me what the appeal is? american beauty was the biggest piece of dog shit i've ever seen! who gives a shit about a bunch of selfish, boring yuppies? i go to art school, and all this shit is EXTREMELY typical for student's work. it's like people still think we live in the fifties or something. AMERICAN beauty? whose america is that? nothing that i've ever seen. a bunch of pasty face whiners. look at this bag blowing in the wind...isn't it beautiful...fuck off...you suck and so does your bag...as well as six feet under and alan ball
Aug. 26, 2001, 12:47 p.m. CST
Having not watched the first two episodes, I can't comment on their flaws, but I saw very little to complain about in the other episodes. Sisto's performance was incredibly nuanced - he truly left you with that unsettling "what is he going to do next" feeling that I'm sure anyone who has a relationship with someone with this illness can identify. Rodriguez is a class act: I started to connect with his character in that episode with the gang member's burial. And the conclusion of that episode where he worked on the tiny infant as he was expecting his own child ? I wept - I really identified with what he was experiencing. When's the latest time a drama on the regular networks moved you that way ? 'Nuff said...
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