'Six Feet Under' First Episode: THR's 2001 Review
"It is fearless in its approach to storytelling and, far more often than not, succeeds in the risks it takes."
On June 3, 2001, HBO introduced a new drama, Six Feet Under, during the 10 p.m. hour on Sundays. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
Alan Ball’s penchant for revealing the dark, disquieting side of contemporary America, previously demonstrated in his Oscar-winning screenplay for American Beauty, is on display again in a thoughtful, absorbing series that defies easy categorization.
HBO’s Six Feet Under, with its examination of family life through the prism of a mortuary business, combines sardonic humor with poignant drama and comes up with a unique tone and style, in itself quite an accomplishment for any TV series. It is fearless in its approach to storytelling and, far more often than not, succeeds in the risks it takes.
The focus of the series, which premiered Sunday, is the Fisher family, which operates the Los Angeles-based Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, a steady and reasonably prosperous family business. In the opening scenes, patriarch Nathaniel Fisher (guest star Richard Jenkins) meets an untimely demise in a collision with a bus, setting in motion a chain of events, an eruption of emotions and a whole new family dynamic.
Fisher leaves behind a wife, two sons and a daughter. The older son, Nate (Peter Krause of Sports Night), is a 35-year-old, laid-back, shallow but charming slacker whose major accomplishment in life has been to escape the tentacles of the family business. Younger son David (Michael C. Hall), a repressed homosexual, has, with reluctance and resentment, followed his father’s footsteps.
Alienated teenage daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose) seethes with rebellion. Mother Ruth (Frances Conroy) is a bundle of guilt, repressed feelings and fearfulness. Other cast members include Rachel Griffiths as Brenda, whose desire for Nate blossoms into a fascinating, symbiotic relationship, and Mathew St. Patrick (All My Children), David’s lover and moral compass as events unfold.
Ball, who delights in life’s ironies, presents two right from the start. Although they belong to the same family, each character has a different outlook on life. Also, though death is part of the family business, the experience of counseling others is of practically no benefit when the Fisher family attempts to cope with their feelings of loss and apprehension.
There is much to admire about this series, including top-notch performances, artful direction and creative storytelling that employs various techniques, including dream sequences and parody commercials. Best of all, though, is Ball’s introspection and the insight he provides about society, the funeral industry and family relationships. — Barry Garron