Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teetering On An Abyss Of Loneliness: Six Feet Under Season Three Peaks!

The Good: Excellent acting, Wonderful character development, Good stories, Less formulaic
The Bad: Tone is enough to make anyone miserable
The Basics: While the staff of Fisher and Diaz deals with the dead, they find their personal lives unraveling into chaos and despair.

No one watches Six Feet Under to feel good, unless they are terribly depressed and want to watch a show about people who are even more messed up than they are. Six Feet Under excels at creating a dark mood that is complex and often seems out of balance on the first viewing. The truth is, upon rewatching Six Feet Under's second season, one is moved to appreciate the weird balance of the show. For every ending there is a beginning, for every crumbling there is a creation, for every problem there is a solution.

Months after his life-altering surgery, Nate Fisher finds himself married to Lisa, working the funeral home and doing his best to be a good father to Maya. David and Keith are in counseling to keep their relationship together and Ruth is doing her own, isolated thing. Claire, of all of the Fishers, is living, exploring love and doing her art. Federico, a partner now, develops an attitude that is surly and confrontational. And Brenda, Nate's ex-fiance, is nowhere to be found.

As time passes, it does not take much for the lives of the various Fishers to unravel. Nate's devotion to Maya is not enough to trump his lack of love for Lisa, David and Keith fight more often, and Federico (who is like an adopted Fisher) comes to understand his wife, Vanessa, is seriously depressed following her mother's death.

Six Feet Under season three is certainly the season of the women of the show. While Brenda is absent much of the season, when she does resurface, she is interesting and she has an engaging story to tell and continue. Claire engages in a relationship where she stands up for herself and then discovers her passion for art and creation and does an amazing job negotiating a relationship with a social misfit named Russell. Ruth befriends an eccentric who liberates her, has a near-relationship with a repressed intern working for Fisher and Diaz, and ultimately meets someone who will change her life for the better.

Six Feet Under is the story of a family that owns a funeral home and its third season is remarkably accessible for those who have not seen the show before. The season premiere, "Perfect Circles," seeks to drop the viewer into a show that has almost reinvented itself. While there is still death surrounding the main characters, many of the challenges from the previous seasons - Nate and Brenda's relationship, Billy's presence in Brenda's life, David coming to terms with his homosexuality, Claire's struggle to find her place, Federico's struggle for equality within the family-run business - are entirely gone, leaving a fresh slate of new and emerging issues that engage the viewer from the first episode of the season.

The third season of Six Feet Under has what might well be a perfect episode with "Nobody Sleeps," the season's fourth episode. Following on the heels of a great David and Keith story in "The Eye Inside," "Nobody Sleeps" has Lisa throwing a birthday party for Ruth set opposite an elaborate funeral wherein a man builds an opera set in the funeral home for his partner's funeral. All of the characters have a chance to have a real moment in the episode and the balance and messages come out perfectly.

Six Feet Under is a show about characters, though, and this is how the third season find and defines them:

Nate Fisher - Clearly glad to be alive following his surgery, Nate defines himself now as a father for Maya. It doesn't take long before he begins to understand the consequences of his lack of love for Lisa and the fractures in their relationship begin to cause him to draw comparisons between himself and his dead father, driving him into a downward spiral,

David - Becoming more comfortable with himself leads David to be more assertive with his feelings with Keith, though the two engage in some exploits that challenge his notions of what their relationship should be. He begins to branch out into the world, joining a gay chorus and realizing some of his own ambitions,

Ruth - Befriended by an eccentric woman who opens her up to living more, Ruth finds herself willing to pursue a younger man. When Arthur - the intern - fails to engage her, she meets someone else who changes everything for her,

Claire - Dissatisfied with art school, she had a brief relationship with a musician who leaves her feeling used. Her friendship with Russell becomes a strange tug-of-war between romance, art and their mutual professor,

Federico - Now a partner, Federico becomes somewhat in-your-face with his new authority until he understands the complexities of working upstairs as opposed to working downstairs on the bodies. Soon, however, he finds he is unable to worry as much about work as he must concern himself with holding his family together,

Keith - Dismally unsatisfied with his new job as a security guard, Keith gets frustrated easily. Disturbed by David's sensitivity, Keith works to work through his own issues, especially those with his abusive father, which leads him to a new place,

Lisa - Happy despite the demise of her sex life with Nate, Lisa does not take long to understand that Nate is sticking around only for Maya. She makes a change that will move the whole latter part of the season,

and Brenda - After quite some time away, she returns to make amends with Nate and deal with a family illness. She soon strikes out on her own and opens a new door for herself.

Like all great dramas, Six Feet Under's awesome character work could not be done without an awesome cast. In the third season, Frances Conroy (Ruth), Lauren Ambrose (Claire), and Matthew St. Patrick (Keith) are all given more to do and allowed new opportunities to shine. Conroy plays Ruth giddy in contrast to her usual reserve, Ambrose expands her ability to emote with her eyes and facial expressions to draw us into Claire and Matthew St. Patrick is given amazing opportunities to balance Keith with genuine joy and incredible pain, which he pulls off admirably with his body language and voice. Ben Foster, who plays Russell, is instantly convincing as the sexually-ambiguous, somewhat creepy artist friend of Claire.

Lili Taylor is much-maligned as Lisa, but I'm not sure how fair that is. Taylor plays Lisa as mousy and sometimes needy, but she does it well. Lisa is written as a complex character who wants basic love and attention from her husband, but finds herself married to a guy who clearly loves his daughter, but not his wife. Taylor and Peter Krause (Nate) have an awesome on-again, off-again chemistry that works well to their character's dynamic.

It is, however, Michael C. Hall as David who knocks the performances consistently out of the park. Usually reserved, Hall uses David's experiences with the Gay Men's Chorus to open him up to being a more engaging and realized character. In the third season, Hall allows David to smile and emote far more and escape the simple drudgeries of work without making it seem like something David would not do.

Who will like Six Feet Under? Anyone who likes a strong, character-driven drama. Who will not enjoy this boxed set? Those who are very uptight about death, homosexuality, and people easily upset by realistic interpretations of the complexities of interpersonal relationships. This season is very close to perfect and is a must for anyone who loves great drama.

For other third seasons of programs, please check out my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season 3
30 Rock - Season 3
The Big Bang Theory - Season 3


For other television DVD set reviews, please check my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2005, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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