Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sex, Death Mystery, Suspense – Why I Like Six Feet Under

Four of many words that can be used to describe one of the most important and dare I say it, most influential shows on television? This is not sycophantic fan banter, but more I feel a fact about this series.

Debuting June 3rd 2001 on HBO, it wasn’t until a year later when this series arrived on Channel 4 and E4 that I would witness this brilliant show and when I started watching, it didn’t take me long to realise there was something unique and previously untouched upon that would make this series mandatory viewing.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this and to quote Matthew St. Patrick is “because it’s real” and Freddy Rodriguez “people are tired of being spoon fed, they want to think”. This is exactly what Six Feet Under is and has always been in their entire run as ever the geniuses, HBO have managed to create another series on a par with the brilliance of The Sopranos, a series in which the lives of characters who have such intimacy with death, flip to anger or to constantly overanalyse their every move to the point of narcissism would resonate so much with viewers to the extent of making for uncomfortable viewing at times. That in itself is something of an attraction.

If you’re one of those people who likes relatively uncomplicated television then watching this will be the biggest pain in the rectum for you. Six Feet Under is the kind of programme that will grab you by the jugular and squeeze relentlessly at every imaginable topic under the sun.

From homosexuality, abortion, family values up until mental illness, this is a series willing to push quite some boundaries in such a frank and audaciously honest manner; it’s hard not to admire them for it even if they aren’t always successful.

Created by the openly gay Alan Ball, the series’ representation on homosexuality is without a doubt, the best I’ve seen with its honest if often frustrating depiction of David and Keith. Throughout the course of their volatile but loving relationship we’ve had moments to cheer and groan at them, whether it be David’s closet-ness in the first season or the ill-conceived “open relationship” scenario in the fourth year, but for any construed negative portrayal of either partner, Ball and company have always found a way to depict their relationship with realism and depth and have made them as important to any of the heterosexual relationships in the series.

Some viewers could arguably complain that often (and especially with the current adoption plot) the writers try too hard to normalise David and Keith but I don’t really think so. I will admit that we’ve seen David have more sex with random strangers that we’ve had him and Keith do it but I love the way the series depicts them as two people in love, who if even if they do often bring out the worst in each other, always try to work things out. The only other show that I’ve seen this real kind of effort to portray gay couples as real human being has been Willow and Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Then, there are the domestics on which by far are the most realistic on US television. The emotionally distant Fishers are an intriguing clan because as a family who are close to each other, they often know very little about the other.

Examples that pinpoints this are Nate discovering Nathaniel had a secret room where he used to spend hours doing who knows (and yes, it’s a clever analogy for the areas in our lives we don’t allow other people to see), Ruth’s secret affair with her hairdresser revealed on the day of her husband’s funeral or even Nate’s AVM plot in the second season, which I actually think is quite crucial seeing as David was the only one he openly revealed it to (Ruth, Claire and Brenda all had to find out the hard way). This detachment isn’t unfamiliar with most programmes but this one of the few to do it effectively.

Also some of the bust ups on this show with certain sets of people have been spectacular. Examples including David blasting Nate and calling him a sanctimonious prick in the “Pilot”, Nate and Brenda dishing out some home truths in “I’ll Take You”, David and Keith in “Twilight”, newlyweds Ruth and George in “Coming And Going” or the one that really takes the biscuit – Ruth and Claire in “Hold My Hand”. Shows like Desperate Housewives may do the domestics but none as realistically as this show. That argument between Ruth and Claire is one that most of us have had with our parents at one point or another and these bust ups get played with such intensity and passion from the talented cast, it’s often hard to separate fact from fiction.

The show has also pushed some further boundaries with taboo subjects such as abortion and mental illness with some interesting outcomes. In the third season Claire decided to have a termination and despite the controversy there still is with abortion, the writers managed to portray a neutral view on the subject.

The current mental illness plot with George in the latest season, despite actor James Cromwell’s disapproval has been brilliantly played out to harrowing effect, whether it be Ruth’s exhaustion of looking after her husband or George’s own torturous frustration of his mental deterioration, this has definitely been one of the series most successful plots to date.

Besides the superior acting and writing on Six Feet Under there’s also the brilliant use of music here too. Many shows will plank any random track with no real meaning or resonance to whatever message they are trying to send out but not with this series in which the music is used with such precision and integrity and Rick Marvin’s scoring are simply out of this world. Seriously is there any US television show that pays so much attention to detail or portrays characters so relatable nowadays? When this show goes, you will feel its loss.


Pozo.... said...

Hi!, I'm --RPozo-- from, Great poll, I just didn't answer the one wth the season 5 extras, because I don't have that DVD yet... hope I'll get it soon...

shawnlunn2002 said...

Hey that's cool, glad you enjoyed the poll.