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Case Number 04937

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Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season

HBO // 2002 // 280 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 4th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle found his second trip into the grave even more enjoyable than the first.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Six Feet Under: The Complete First Season (published February 10th, 2003), Six Feet Under: The Complete Third Season (published June 8th, 2005), Six Feet Under: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 10th, 2005), and Six Feet Under: The Complete Fifth Season (published April 19th, 2006) are also available.

The Charge

When death is your business, what's the meaning of your life?

Opening Statement

One of HBO's critical and commercial successes, Six Feet Under has become one of the most sharply written, emotionally stirring shows of the new millennium. And all that from a show about dead people! Finally debuting on DVD is the long awaited Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season from HBO Video.

Facts of the Case

Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season finds the Fisher family—owners of an independent funeral home in Los Angeles—once again plunged headlong into personal turmoil and crises as each character struggles with their own mortality and the death of their father (Richard Jenkins, The Core). The rundown on Season Two:

At the end of the first season, prodigal son Nate Fisher (Peter Krause, TV's Sports Night) struggled to deal with a grave diagnosis that could leave him paralyzed, or worse. Now Nate must deal with the seizures and health risks while trying to keep his condition a secret from those closest to him. At the same time Nate's enigmatic girlfriend, the smart but emotionally unstable Brenda (Rachel Griffiths, The Rookie), has momentarily escaped the mental abuse of her brother Billy (Jeremy Sisto, Wrong Turn), but continues to unravel as her sexual dysfunctions bubble to the surface, threatening to do damage to both her mental state and her relationship with Nate.

Nate's brother, the stuffy homosexual David (Michael C. Hall, Paycheck), continues his attempts at keeping Fisher & Sons in business while drifting back to his ex-boyfriend Keith (Mathew St. Patrick), who is also struggling with his drug addicted sister and her young daughter, Taylor (newcomer Ayisa Polk). David also struggles with Rico (Freddy Rodriguez)—the Fisher's best-kept secret in cosmetic reconstruction—and his desires to become a partner. Rico also finds himself with feelings of anger towards homosexual men, which also causes some conflict between himself and David.

Claire (Lauren Ambrose, Can't Hardly Wait), the youngest of the Fisher children, finally rids herself of her destructive boyfriend, the sleazy Gabe (Eric Balfour, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but begins drifting into a potentially dangerous friendship with Brenda's unstable brother Billy, released from the hospital by Brenda's eccentric mother (Joanna Cassidy, John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars).

Finally there is Ruth Fisher (Frances Conroy, 2004's Catwoman), the family patriarch so uptight she could make a corpse look loose. Ruth finally dumps her deadbeat boyfriend, the flighty Hiram (Ed Begley, Jr.), and finds solace in the arms of Nikolai (Ed O'Ross, Dick Tracy), the owner of the flower shop Ruth works for. When Nikolai's legs are broken in what appears to be a botched robbery, Ruth slowly discovers where her relationship with Nikolai stands, leading Ruth on an emotional journey of self-discovery in a new, Tony Robbins-like self-help group.

The following episodes are included on this five-disc set:

• In The Game
• Out, Out Brief Candle
• The Plan
• Driving Mr. Mossback
• The Invisible Woman
• In Place Of Anger
• Back To The Garden
• It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
• Someone Else's Eyes
• The Secret
• The Liar And The Whore
• I'll Take You
• The Last Time

The Evidence

I've become a believer in Alan Ball's great Six Feet Under. After watching the first season I was hooked—line and sinker. Though I rarely watch much television—and even less boob tube "dramas"—I was thrilled to see a series that tackles a lot of different topics in one of the most offbeat, freshest ways in quite sometime.

In the first season of Six Feet Under it felt as if Ball was just setting the stage for conflicts to come. During that season (warning: spoilers ahead), the Fisher boys contended with Matthew Gilardi (Gary Hershberger), a vile and treacherous representative of corporate funeral company Kroner and its desire to buy out Fisher & Sons. At the same time Nate dealt with his complex and often dangerous relationship with Brenda while she dealt with her brother Billy, eventually committed to an institution after coming at her with a knife.

At the same time, David finally came out of the closet after a series of personal events with both his boyfriend Keith and the Catholic church where he'd become a Deacon. Claire struggled with her self-destructive relationship with Gabe while Ruth Fisher continued to mourn the loss of her husband and subsequently choosing between two mediocre suitors. The final episode of the first season found Nate only beginning to come to terms with his mortality while the fate of the Fisher funeral home hung in the balance.

All of that was just a set-up for the emotional ride of Season Two. This time around, the characters are richer and more textured. Nathanial's freewheeling attitude is shattered by his diagnosis and his subsequent breakdown is as heartbreaking as they come. Peter Krause is easily one of the best actors on TV—network, cable, or otherwise. Equally as good is Michael C. Hall as Nate's brother David, a complex character who struggles with his place in the homosexual community as well as his family (David's snippiness with his mother and her desire to understand his sexual nature could keep psychiatrists talking for weeks on end). Hall, a Broadway actor who has successfully made the leap from stage to screen, is deserving of some kind of Emmy nomination, if not a win.

The women in the family, Francis Conroy and Lauren Ambrose, have never been as strongly written as the men, though they also make for compelling characters. Conroy has made Ruth into a contradictory mess—she's both intensely strong and uniformly vulnerable, sometimes at the same time. As she continues to mourn the loss of her husband (Richard Jenkins shows up during various episodes to good effect), her relationships with flower owner Nikolai deepens into crevices that love doesn't always blossom. Ambrose is the most underwritten character on the show, but maybe that's for the best—the real meat of Six Feet Under is in the adult themes and interactions, not the day to day dramas of a high school senior and her drug addled boyfriend.

The only real complaint I have about the second season of Six Feet Under is that the dark, often offbeat humor of the first season seems toned down a bit this time around. While there are moments of mild amusement, mostly the show is about watching character conflict and tragedy strike episode after episode (and if any show requires tragedy, it's one about a family mortuary).

Otherwise, if you enjoyed the first season of Six Feet Under, I can almost 99.7% guarantee that you'll like the second one as well. HBO has been a consistent producer of quality alternative programming, and Six Feet Under is one of their crown jewels. Recommended.

Each episode of Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the show's original aspect ratio. My only real gripe is that I wish these transfers were widescreen. Ah well. That aside, all of these episodes look great. The transfer is bright and clear without any major imperfections marring the image. Dirt and grain are noticeably absent while edge enhancement and other defects are nowhere to be found. HBO has done a great job of making sure this five-disc set is picture perfect viewing.

The soundtracks on each episode are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby 2.0 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. The 5.1 remixes are good, if not great—there are a few surround sounds to be found here, including some ambient noise and Thomas Newman's chillingly bouncy theme song. Otherwise, the fact is that Six Feet Under is drama, and a front heavy one at that. The Dolby 2.0 sound mix is acceptable if slightly less exhilarating. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season isn't jam packed with extras, though what's here should give viewers a bit of enlightenment on the production of the show. The best are five commentary tracks, spread across the five discs. Here's a rundown of the available audio commentaries:

• "In The Game"—commentary by director Rodrigo Garcia (Disc One)
• "Back To The Garden"—commentary by director Dan Attias (Disc Three)
• "The Secret"—commentary by writer Jill Soloway (Disc Four)
• "I'll Take You"—commentary by writer Jill Soloway (Disc Five)
• "The Last Time"—commentary by series creator Alan Ball (Disc Five)

Each of these commentaries offer insight into the creation of the season from different perspectives—writer Soloway doles out thoughts on the characters while the directors tend to be slightly more technically oriented. The best is Ball's commentary, especially since he is the creator of the show and knows it inside out.

The other major extra feature on this set is a 20-minute featurette titled "Anatomy of a Working Stuff." This gives viewers a look into how the show's corpses are made, including interviews with various special effects workers and creator Alan Ball. The way that the effects people make the dummies look eerily life like is astonishing—everything from puncturing in real hair to marbling the skin is done. It's kind of icky, but fun to watch.

Also included on this set are recaps and previews of each episode, as well as a short but well done recap of Season One.

Closing Statement

If you're a fan of the show, Six Feet Under: The Complete Second Season is a no-brainer. If you're like me and are watching each season for the first time on DVD, you'll be drooling at the prospect of finding out what's happening next in the Fisher family's life. HBO has done a great job on this set, and while the price tag is a bit hefty (it'll set you back around $80-$100), it's worth your hard earned cash.

The Verdict

Six Feet Under is a great show and this is a great DVD package.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 92
Audio: 89
Extras: 85
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: HBO
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 280 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• "Anatomy of a Working Stiff" 20-Minute Featurette
• Five Audio Commentaries
• Episode Previews and Recaps
• Season One Recap

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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