Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Mostly Dead-On First Season: Six Feet Under The Complete First Season!

The Good: In General, the acting, Characters, Strength of writing
The Bad: Several of Peter Krause's deliveries, Plot inconsistencies, Price
The Basics: The story of a funeral home being passed from father to sons paints the picture of one of the weirdest television families in American television history with the first season of Six Feet Under!

I have enjoyed Peter Krause's work since he first appeared on Cybill and so when the former Sports Night (click here for that review!) actor got Six Feet Under, I was instantly intrigued. For some weeks, there had been the rumor that HBO would pick up Sports Night,=" so when Krause took their Six Feet Under, it was pretty much impossible to begrudge him that.

When Nate Fisher returns to California for Christmas, he walks into his family in the middle of its complete collapse. His father is killed in a car accident, his mother is plagued by guilt over an affair she had, his brother is emotionally retentive and resentful of his presence and his sister is smoking crystal meth and to complicate matters further, he has just had sex with a woman whose name he does not know. The first episode of the series finds Nate Fisher dealing with all of these variables when he returns to the family's funeral home business.

The first season of Six Feet Under follows Nate - primarily - on a journey of self discovery that keeps him in California helping his brother David run the family business while trying to put his life in order. That means forming a meaningful connection with his younger sister, who is an outsider, it means accepting his brother David's homosexuality, it means coming to terms with his lunatic mother's mood swings, it means dealing with the business' sole employee, Federico, and it means forging a deep bond with Brenda Chenowith (as that is the woman's name he hooked up with in the premiere) despite the interventions of her manic depressive, stalker brother Billy.

What doesn't work for the series is Billy. Billy is an intriguing character, a gifted artist who goes off his medication from time to time simply to feel things. The problem is, Billy is not a terribly good fit for this show and he serves either as a distraction or as tired plot device when the main plots get stretched thin. That is to say, whenever an episode seems to be faltering, suddenly Billy shows up. It becomes a matter of "We need to fill several more minutes, what can we do?" "Use Billy!" and it feels that way. This is why Billy is not needed in the earlier episodes and becomes a driving force by the end of the season; at the beginning, everything is fresh and new and there are plenty of ideas to get onto the screen. And yet, by the end of the season, ideas were running thinner and Billy has a breakdown.

The other problematic aspect of the series is in Peter Krause's acting. I love Peter Krause on Sports Night. He was funny, intelligent and expertly witty as Casey McCall. On Six Feet Under, Krause simply rehashes much of the delivery and style he created as Casey. That is to say, when Nate explodes with Brenda, almost every time, Krause is using the same volume, intensity, tone and speech pattern as he did when Casey McCall would blow up with Dana on Sports Night. Until the last two episodes in this season, Krause does not find a niche for Nate Fisher and instead results to playing him the way he is comfortable, which is playing him like he did Casey. Fans of Peter Krause are likely to find themselves somewhat disappointed until then because the early episodes seem to point to the idea that Krause cannot act.

But the cast is solid and they work quite well together. Rachel Griffiths does a remarkably convincing American accent throughout the season that convinces us that Brenda is quite American. Matthew St. Patrick is wonderful as Keith, David's . . . racquetball partner. Or, by the end of the season, David's former lover. Freddy Roderiguez and Jeremy Sisto round out the non-Fisher portion of the cast as Federico and Billy, respectively, creating some diverse male performances to keep the show from feeling monotonous.

The women are wonderful in Six Feet Under. Frances Conroy plays Ruth, Nate's mother, with impressive, stunning range. She gets into Ruth in a way that forces the viewer to watch her, enraptured by the way the actress so completely becomes Ruth that not for a second do we not connect with her. She never seems anything other than completely real in the show. Lauren Ambrose plays Claire with amazing proficiency, creating a believable outsider. She is a character and a unique individual and those traits are what Ambrose capitalizes on, consistently making the viewer believe in her.

The person who steals the show, though, is Michael C. Hall. Hall plays David and he plays the retentive David with compassion and dignity. While David has the most bothersome character arc of the first season - the sequences where David gets involved with drugs are hard to buy considering how reserved and professional he is in the beginning -, Hall plays him with consistency that makes the viewer believe absolutely in this quirky and intense character. There is no denying he is a viable individual and Hall's performance reminds us of similar people we might have known in our own lives.

All in all, it's easy to see why so many people enjoy Six Feet Under; it is an intelligent show that challenges the viewer each episode with notions of mortality and healing. These are things everyone must deal with at some point and Six Feet Under does it with style, often contrasting death with life to illustrate the importance of every moment of our lives being used to the fullest. It's worth your time, but it is not as perfect as others would have you believe. Krause's acting and David's disturbing decent into drugs and sexual promiscuity are almost as daunting as the $80 - $90 price tag on the 13 episode season. HBO might realize that their future is in DVD, but that's no reason we, the viewers, have to pay so much for it. At the end of the day, the thirteen episodes are worth the money; the writing is intelligent and the feel of the show is intense and worthwhile. And if you had to pay for television, you couldn't ask for much better than that.

For the Complete Series of Six Feet Under, please check out my review of the entire series by clicking here!

For other television dramas, please check out my reviews of:
The West Wing
True Blood - Season 1


For other television series reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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