Ray and I are down to the last four episodes of the television series Six Feet Under, which aired from 2001 to 2005. (Yes, I know we are slightly behind the rest of the modern world.) I have a few thoughts on this series before I view these last episodes. I may not feel a need to comment afterwards; however, I have been told that the finale is considered the most satisfying ending of any series in television history. I guess we’ll see…
What makes the series so compelling is that characters are completely imperfect in their approach to life. This includes not only the Fisher family, who own a family funeral home, but also the minor characters who often are part of the family of the person who died at the beginning of each episode. Of course, the structure of this series is near-perfect since there are a thousand ways to die and a thousand reactions to death from family and friends. All of that makes for rich material to mine for the writer, but, more importantly, the series originator, Alan Ball, must have insisted on no sugar-coating. These characters are real. They fart, throw up, make terrible choices, say stupid things, hurt each other and act like complete jackasses half the time without any red bows showing up at the end of the hour to tie everything up in a pretty Christmas package. This is an unapologetic look at life through the lens of the show’s creator, which seems to celebrate the wacky, discombobulated way life actually works versus some made-for-tv movie.
The other aspect of the series that makes it special is that the writers do not shy away from tough subjects. They have dealt with almost any social problem one can name from adoption to sex addiction to mental illness x 2 to physical illness to artistic angst. There is no moralizing; these issues are presented as they would appear in real life and the characters do their best to cope with them.
Finally, the use of magic realism adds a special touch to the series. We get a vision of life after death from the perspective of several of the main characters – which is at the very least entertaining – and each member of the Fisher family is routinely visited by Nathaniel Fisher, the dead patriarch of the clan. This often provides deeper understanding of a person or situation, but can sometimes just be downright funny. Whatever the case, this decision to go into the afterlife gives the stories greater depth.
So, yes, I would highly recommend this series even if it’s ancient history by today’s standards. It remains one of the most lauded series on television for good reason – crazy good storytelling with an eye to the honest. What more could you want for a night’s entertainment?