HBO // 2001 // 780 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 10th, 2003
Your whole life is leading up to this...
In the past few years, TV has had a real resurgence. With the declining health of sitcoms, television has had to look in new directions to reel in viewers. One station has almost singlehandedly produced some of the most critically acclaimed programs this side of NYPD Blue: HBO. From the gritty The Sopranos to the provocative Sex And The City to the disturbing prison drama Oz, HBO has been producing quality shows that break through the constrictive boundaries of regular network TV shows. In 2001, HBO produced the breakout series Six Feet Under, a drama/comedy (or "dramady," if you prefer) about a family running a funeral home in the glamour and glitz of Pasadena, California. Six Feet Under: The Complete First Season is now available in a four-disc box set from HBO Home Video.
When patriarch father and funeral home owner Nathanial Fisher (Richard Jenkins) is killed in a car wreck, his family finds that it's tough living life under the cloud of being Six Feet Under. Upon his arrival home, prodigal son Nate Fisher (Peter Krause, TV's Sports Night) finds out about his father's sudden demise. This is right before he has sex with Brenda (Rachel Griffiths, The Rookie), a woman he met on the plane and proceeds to screw in the airport janitorial closet moments after landing. Nathanial's wife Ruth (Frances Conroy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) is shattered by the news, as is her rebellious teenage daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose). With Nathanial gone, the job of running the funeral home now goes to David (newcomer Michael C. Hall), Nate's uptight brother who harbors a deep secret (I'll give you a hint: it starts with "homo" and ends with "sexual") and finds solace in his good "friend" Keith (Matthew St. Patrick, TV's All My Children). Help also comes in the form of Rico (Freddy Rodriguez, Payback), a young reconstructive artist that has worked for the Fisher's for five years. Upon the reading of the will, David and Nate find out that their father has decided to give part ownership of the business to each son. With a corporate funeral company breathing down their necks and personal triumphs and tragedies aplenty for the entire family, the Fishers must learn how to live their complicated lives among the dead.
There are a total of 13 episodes included on this disc:
An Open Book
Life's Too Short
The New Person
A Private Life
By rule of thumb, I generally pass on reviewing season by season TV shows on DVD. It may come as a shock to many, but I don't have cable. Or basic cable. Or any TV channels, for that matter. All I watch is movies, movies, movies. The reason is simple: TV is far too time consuming and commitment heavy. So many shows require you to be present week after week that it feels too daunting a task for my short attention span (and don't get me started on taping them -- that's just as headache worthy). With movies you're usually in and out within about two hours. With something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you have to be there from day one or you're as lost as Margot Kidder in your backyard.
So, it was with a little reluctance that I decided to watch Six Feet Under: The Complete First Season. I had heard to many good things about it from friends and family that I figured this was as good a time as any to catch a critically acclaimed show that requires money if you want to watch it weekly (pay channel HBO). After just the pilot, I gotta admit it...I was hooked. This is by far one of the best shows I've ever seen. Six Feet Under includes many elements from both comedy and drama, with a quirky twist. There are moments in it that are so poignant that I was almost in tears. There are also just as many laughs -- Six Feet Under retains a very dry, dark sense of humor that comes with the territory (hey, if you're going to have a show about undertakers, it can't be just bleakness and depression). As gripping as any movie in theaters, Six Feet Under is a show that sucks you in from the first haunting frame to the last...and then you have to start all over again next week.
Six Feet Under was created by Alan Ball, the writer of the Oscar winning Best Picture American Beauty. It would be easy to see this mortuary in the same neighborhood as that film's family -- much like Kevin Spacey's life, the folks in Six Feet Under are struggling with acceptance, relationships, and finding their place in the world. The cast is filled with excellent performances throughout. In fact -- and I don't say this often -- there isn't a weak link in the entire chain. Both Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause are excellent as the Fisher brothers. Krause has a confident, laid back swagger that makes him both likable and funny. Hall, a Broadway veteran, is solid as the uptight David, a man who is grappling with both his sexuality and devotion to the family business. Francis Conroy as their mother is most likely the most complex character next to Rachel Griffiths' Brenda. Both women provide solid support, warmth, and humor to the show. Even the supporting characters -- including Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, and Jeremy Sisto as Brenda's dangerously disturbed brother -- are great. Casts just don't come any tighter than this.
Each episode starts with the death of a character, then moves on to the story at hand. Some of these openings are tense (as when a small child finds a gun under a bed) and others comical (as when a man gets chopped to bits in an industrial food processing machine). This sets the stage for the Fisher's often tumultuous personal matters. David struggling with his relationship with God and his blossoming homosexuality. Nate and Brenda's passionate and often rocky relationship. Ruth's newfound freedom with her previous lover (Ed Begley, Jr.). Each episode is packed with dialogue that sparkles with originality and heartbreak. Though the theme of the show is somewhat morbid (undertaking), it's always fascinating and never gets in the way of the writers creating memorable characters and situations. If I have only one complaint it's that I now have to wait multiple months before HBO releases Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season.
Six Feet Under is exactly why I hate TV. You find a show you like, then you get sucked in and revolve your nights around it. Ah, what a double edged sword the boob tube can be. I am so happy that I was able to watch the first season of this show, and am really looking forward to seeing the next few on DVD. If you end up inside on a rainy day, this set is a great way to spend 13 hours of your life (or death...you be the judge). Highly recommended.
Six Feet Under is presented in a fine 1.33:1 fill frame transfer. HBO has done an excellent job at making sure each episode appears bright and bold without any major imperfections marring the image. There's only a few minor flaws that don't detract from the viewing (pun intended). Though these episodes don't have the sparkle of a crystal clear film transfer, they are nonetheless very fine.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Seeing as Six Feet Under is a dialogue driven show and not an effects heavy movie, I wasn't surprised to find these tracks lacking in bombastic front and rear surrounds. While there are a few instances where directional effects are present (Thomas Newman's haunting main theme), overall these are effective, if subdued, soundtracks. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix in English, a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix in Spanish and French, plus English and Spanish subtitles.
HBO has really done a fine job with adding on some substantial supplemental materials to this four disc set. Here's a rundown of what's included on this set:
Commentary Track by Writer/Director/Creator Alan Ball: There are two commentaries by Ball available on this set: one for the pilot episode and one for the final episode. Both of these tracks are well recorded and feature Ball's dry, pointed sense of humor. There's a lot of information to be found here -- everything from Ball's thoughts about the opening titles to the casting and story conceptions is included. For those looking for a more in-depth look into the making of this series, both of these tracks are recommended.
Behind-The-Scenes Featurette: Though this is technically just an extended promotional spot for the show, it was a lot of fun to watch the actors out of character and discussing such topics as their characters, their favorite moments and the worst jobs they've ever had. The participants include Krause, Conroy, Hall, Griffiths (who has an accent!), and all of the main cast from the show. Fluffy, but worth a look.
Deleted Scene with Optional Commentary: A single deleted scene from the pilot episode is available with commentary by Alan Ball. The scene is nice to have, though it wouldn't have added much to the final cut of the episode.
Featurette on the Making of the Main Titles: This is a really nice piece that shows how the opening titles were created by effects house Digital Kitchen, as well as Thomas Newman's great theme. Included on this featurette are interviews with Alan Ball, Thomas Newman, Digital Kitchen creative officer Paul Matthaeus, and others. It's amazing how much work goes into just a few moments of film. A fun, weird look at a particular work that usually doesn't get much credit.
Cast and Filmmakers / Awards and Nominations: Included here is a short synopsis on each main and supporting actor (as well as some crew members), and a list of the show's awards and nominations.
Two Music Tracks: The quirky main theme by composer Thomas Newman is included here, as well as a remix by Kid Loco.
Also included on this set is some DVD-ROM content, and a short series index with a brief synopsis about each show.
I can't say enough good things about this series. Six Feet Under will please those looking for both riveting drama and offbeat comedy. Though I think this is a great buy at around $75, the uninitiated may want to rent first before they decide to buy. HBO has produced a very fine set with good audio/video presentations and a nice batch of informative supplemental features.
Six Feet Under is a series that definitely shouldn't be buried. This set is worth any TV fan's time! Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 780 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Behind The Scenes Featurette
* Audio Commentaries by Alan Ball
* Deleted Scene
* Featurette on Main Titles
* Two Music Tracks by Thomas Newman and Kid Loco
* Cast and Crew Information
* Awards and Nominations
* Series Index