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The Best of Television: Six Feet Under

Nathaniel: You hang on to your pain like it means something. Like it’s worth something. Well, let me tell you – it’s not worth shit. Let it go! Infinite possibilities, and all he can do is whine.

David: Well, what am I supposed to do?

Nathaniel: What do you think? You can do ANYTHING you lucky bastard – you’re alive! What’s a little pain compared to that?

David: It can’t be that simple.

Nathaniel: What if it is?

I’m kind of blissfully unaware when it comes to television shows. I don’t enjoy reality tv, I’m not a big fan of laugh-track comedy, and I despise Family Guy. Suffice it to say, I’m totally out of the loop when it comes to popular tv. Most of the time, if I had my way, I’d leave the channel set to Food Network or the news, or god forbid, turn it off entirely and read a book or go biking instead. I don’t have much use for modern-day television.

With the exception of HBO. HBO dramas have been successfully hooking me for years. True Blood is my current addiction, and Game of Thrones is fast approaching my list of top five favorite shows of all time. I loved the Sopranos, enjoyed the quirk of Sex and the City, and am hearing excellent things about the new Laura Dern drama Enlightened, which tells the story about a woman struggling with mental illness. They just make good shows – the kind of thing I’m into. I suppose you would call them dramadies, as much as I hate the word.

The show Six Feet Under falls right into the center of that category, and as far as I’m concerned, is the best television show HBO has ever produced, and one of the best television shows ever to air. It is, in fact, my favorite show of all time. It is simply a perfect example of a well-produced, superbly acted, incredibly written piece of television. It transcended boundaries, pushed the envelope, and made its audience laugh and cry (often simultaneously). Words cannot describe how much I love the show. I’ve seen the entire series in sequence at least four times, and I never tire of it. I’m always discovering new scenes I’d never noticed before, and finding symmetry in the lives of the characters that I can identify with at different points in my life.

Six Feet Under is, in a nutshell, about death. The Fishers run a funeral home in California; the family business. The pilot begins with the patriarch, Nathaniel Fisher, meeting his untimely demise when he gets hit by a bus the day before Christmas. The story begins as the family has to deal with the uncertainty, grief and tension brought on by the sudden death of their father and husband. One by one we meet the characters – laid-back, yet troubled free spirit Nate, who is visiting from Seattle; selfish, immature Claire, the youngest, who is quickly treading into self-destructive behaviors; uptight, regimented and vulnerable David, who has a few skeletons in his closet he’s afraid to let out; and frazzled, clueless Ruth, who is often utterly devoid of hope for a life she feels has passed her by, but bound by love of children and family.

“You can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone.” -Nate

The show focuses on these four main characters, the people they love, and the situations they create, over five seasons. With perhaps only one or two exceptions, the show followed a relatively normal path. Nothing over-the-top or particularly unbelievable about the characters experiences. They are just a family living day to day, struggling with relationships, sex, their health, money, and friendships. They just happen to bury people for a living. Oh, and they occasionally have dream sequences involving singing and/or dancing, and the odd talk with their dead father’s ghost. But you know, nothing too out of the ordinary.

The characters deal with death every day. That is something they are accustomed to. Handling their lives is another matter.

Six Feet Under dealt with a variety of topics that no other television show had really dealt with before. Hate crimes, recreational drug use, sex addiction, racism, domestic violence, and more. The show confronted these topics head on, honestly, and with wide-open eyes. There were not always happy conclusions, but it was always raw and honest. Only Six Feet Under could convey the utter beauty in the ugliness of life. For every moment of pain, disgust or hate, there was beauty in it. There was humor in it. There was humanity in it.

The last season of Six Feet Under is an emotional roller coaster. I love to rewatch the show, but it is hard to watch that season. It is dark, lonely, and full of grief. And yet, there’s always hope. The last episode of the show caused me to sob relentlessly, and I went into mourning for days afterward. Such is how much I had connected with the characters. I’ve had other friends and fans tell me that they felt the same way after watching the last episode. I can’t think of another example of a television show finale that managed to evoke so much emotion from people. I still cannot listen to the song “Breathe Me” by Sia without tears.

Six Feet Under is about death. While dealing with that subject matter, it ends up being about life. In all of its frustrating, hopeful, and beautiful entirety. There will never be another television show like it. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

By Teri Drake-Floyd

An almost 30-something synestheste, foodie, genealogist and all around proud geek.

9 replies on “The Best of Television: Six Feet Under”

I was depressed for several days afterward. It destroyed me. Especially that one scene (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) when Claire is driving away, and looks in her rearview to see Nate running alongside her car, and she leaves him in the dust and starts sobbing. Oh, man man man. I get teary just thinking about that scene.

I just started watching Six Feet Under a few weeks ago, and I’m already on season 4. It really is one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. The acting is incredible. I know what happens in the finale and I’ve seen the last scene, but it was a few years ago, out of context, and with no knowledge of these characters. So I still expect to be totally destroyed by the finale.

I watched the first four seasons with a friend when I studied abroad, and when I got back I couldn’t watch the last season by myself, so I’ve never seen it. I want to, but I’m not sure I want it to be over (years later, ha). I want to rewatch from the beginning and finish the whole series, but it’s emotional, so I need a good viewing friend. Also, I fucking detest Brenda. I saw a woman who looked like her last summer at a restaurant and I was literally tempted to walk over and punch her. Which… is a problem.

Also! The guy who carjacks David terrifies me to this day. That episode was TRAUMA to watch. When I see that guy in ads or other TV shows I am physically uncomfortable and scared. Which I guess shows how well the show does its job.

A lot of fans apparently thought that episode majorly jumped the shark but I thought it was fantastic. Very disturbing and scary. The first time I saw it I barely exhaled the entire episode, and it left me so shaken and upset. The acting was absolutely fantastic and the event takes David through an arc that his character really needed to go through to be able to deal with what was to come. Or so I thought.

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