Friday, April 07, 2006

My Review of Six Feet Under's: "In Memorium"

Written And Directed by Jesse Gordon

HBO Timeline: June 3rd – August 21st 2005
Series’ Timeline: December 24th 2000 – February 11th 2085

First off all, I have to apologise. I had every intention of reviewing this retrospective before the finale but every attempt of downloading went so disastrously, I gave up and vowed if E4 aired it, I would review it, so despite being two months overdue, it’s finally up, so I’ll split into the seven categories it was laid out for viewers.

Death: The hell with every forensic show on the planet because the subject of death has never been the same since Six Feet Under. Dubbed the “cold open”, each episode (minus “All Alone”) opened with a particular person meeting their maker in many, many different ways. Having a bus smash up you inside a hearse, mistaking airborne blow up dolls for rapture (Kathy Bates’ favourite), your kid brother shooting himself (Eric Balfour’s favourite), getting hit by blue ice, cutting off your air supply as part of a sexual technique or even getting mauled by a cougar, the deaths on this series have been hilarious, heartbreaking and genuinely disturbing but with so very little shows still out there that embrace death, it shows how in denial we still are about the most inevitable thing in the world. As Rainn Wilson put it, “America – Deal With Death”.

The Cast: You can’t bring brilliant, multi-layered characters to life without finding the right set of actors most suited to the role. While most of the information in here isn’t entirely new such as Peter Krause originally auditioning to play David or initial worries of Australian Rachel Griffiths honing a perfect US accent, it’s still particularly fun to watch nonetheless but as per usual, many of the actors who have graced this series nearly all come from theatre backgrounds.

Writing: It doesn’t take a genius to realise the writing on this show is truly out of this world. No other show has ever gotten as close to the human psyche and it’s often quite unsettling when you think about it. For this section, it’s great that Alan Ball included his super talented staff writers. Rick Cleveland (“Nobody Sleeps”) notes the show’s pitch black humour while Jill Soloway (“I’ll Take You”) happily merits the similarities between the characters personal lives and the staff writers while Nancy Oliver (“Ecotone”) discusses how the Fishers’ repressed manner often forces them to lash out in the most volatile of ways (examples being Ruth losing $25,000 at the races or David having sex with a prostitute). Craig Wright (“Falling Into Place”) dissects the show’s David Lynch style non-linear approach (Scene 1: David mad, Scene 2: David happy, Scene 3: David lashing out) to writing and Kate Robin (“A Private Life”) revels in the series ability to blend comedy and drama together so effervescently.

Even Rachel Griffiths cites the series fantastic and all too real depiction of a variety of complex and multi-faceted female characters and while they are many feminist critics who have dogged both Sex And The City and Desperate Housewives, even they’d be hard pressed to deem Six Feet Under sexist or misogynistic in any way. Lauren Ambrose also noted the heightened reality/fantasy elements of the series. Like seriously, where else are you going to find your dad dressed as Death Man, have a creepy farmyard dream about eggs or go trailing through the woods high on ecstasy chasing a bear. People can whine that being on HBO gives this show some unfair advantages but the fact is that most networks chug out the same old routines, it’s no wonder Six Feet Under outclasses them by miles.

Characters: A little similar to the cast but going by its title, the emphasis is solely on our regulars and the side characters that have influenced them throughout the show. Alan Ball discusses how both Nate and Brenda crave love, yet pull away from commitment as Jill Soloway offers her own insight into Lisa’s overall arc in the second and third seasons. Drawing parallels to his own childhood, Ball talks about how he relates to Claire’s artistic flair and youngest child syndrome and although it’s hilarious to hear Lauren Ambrose’s worry over playing out her first stoned scene in the “Pilot”, I found the anecdotes from Richard Jenkins, Sprague Grayden and Ben Foster quite fun.

The David and Keith segment was the best part of this, mainly because there was some explanation into their arcs in Seasons Four and Five and having Michael C. Hall and Matthew St Patrick’s input made it all the more interesting. The latter actor openly revealed his reluctance to play a stereotyped character while the former actor provided his own insight into the events of “That’s My Dog”. I liked Freddy Rodriguez’s thoughts on Rico’s own developments while Frances Conroy delightfully informed us of her character’s constant surprising moments which is backed up by all her leading men in the series.

The Look: It’s all about looks, even on this show and the fact it has such an epic feel to it has a lot to do with the fact its shot in such a cinematic style. While this sets the show apart from others, there’s a rather ground and credible feel to it as well. Kathy Bates who directed five episodes in the series muses about being given enough creative freedom to keep a certain shot between Nate and Claire in “The New Person” or having a church filled with naked guys in “An Open Book”. Jeremy Podeswa (“Parallel Play”) and Daniel Minahan (“Eat A Peach”) provide interesting enough commentary on how shooting on location such as Las Vegas (“The Trip”) or Seattle (“Driving Mr Mossback”) adds to the series’ appeal. There are also some nice comments from the production team on use of colour for certain characters (green for the Fisher house, pastels for the Diaz’s, blue for Brenda etc).

Favourite Moments: What to choose? If you’re Kathy Bates, then its Bettina and Ruth shoplifting while Justina Machado and Freddy Rodriguez liked Rico’s reaction to catching his cousin in a compromising position with another man, Eric Balfour on the other hand enjoyed the shower scene with Gabe and Claire. Lauren Ambrose loves the kitchen/dinner scenes with the Fishers, Joanna Cassidy and Jeremy Sisto were shocked when Billy tried to stab Brenda while Peter Krause and Michael C. Hall loved the episode “The Room”. Far too many to remember, so there are the highlights from this section.

Everything Ends: This last part has everyone revealing their enjoyment on working on Six Feet Under, while admitting it was time to end the series while it was still creatively good. Watching the sets being torn to pieces is a little upsetting but I will point out that this series wasn’t cancelled, it was a mutual decision between Alan Ball and HBO.

Also in “2001-2005: In Memorium”

I loved the use of the first episode, commentary from cast and Alan Ball and the season trailers to start the retrospective off.

There were no contributions from Patricia Clarkson, Mena Suvari, Chris Messina, C.J. Saunders or Kendre Henry.

If you look closely the white board had plots for Season Five mapped out.

Alan Ball mentioned his sister’s death within the first five minutes of the retrospective. He did this with the Better Living Through Death book as well.

Did anyone else find it extremely weird that the actors and Alan Ball could swear, yet anytime they showed a scene with cursing, the swear word was removed?

Nobody outside the series contributed to this special unlike the Sex And The City one last year. Plus there was no mention of the Emmy awards and other stuff this show has been nominated for.

Why wasn’t there a section for use of music on this show? That was odd, given how wonderfully it’s used on Six Feet Under.

Standout music: “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab For Cutie, Interpol’s “Direction”, John Connell Band “People Who Died”, Augustana’s “Boston”, remixes of the theme tune and score pieces by Richard Marvin.

A stunning, fitting tribute to a show that should not be allowed to be forgotten anytime soon. “2001-2005: In Memorium” managed to wonderfully document every recommendable thing about this show without the need to patronise viewers and the structure was as consistent and as sharp as the series’ itself. Oh hell, I miss Six Feet Under.

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