Frontline: The Undertaker



9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30

In a way, it's unfortunate that "Frontline" scheduled "The Undertaker" the day before Halloween. It creates the perfectly logical expectation that there will be something spooky or scary about this story of a family-owned mortuary in a central Michigan town.

It is haunting, all right. Emotionally haunting. You can't watch this slice of life and death without wondering what the clients of Lynch & Sons are going through and whether you would have the same courage, dignity and inner strength. That's particularly true of the heart-tugging story of a young couple whose 2-year-old son, born with a fatal genetic disease, has little time left.

Thomas Lynch, a burly man and a poet, runs the business. The author of "The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade," Lynch is a formidable observer of human nature.

Nothing on TV quite compares with this touching telefilm produced, directed and written by Miri Navasky and Karen O'Connor. It is devoid of the dark humor that for which HBO's "Six Feet Under" was famous. At the same time, it refuses to exploit the grief of those who visit Lynch & Sons. It is somber but not melancholy.

"I watched the meaning change, of what it is that undertakers do from something done with the dead to something done for the living to something done by the living," Lynch reflects. Not much in common, really, with the gaudy, colorful, thrills of Halloween.