This is not strictly a literature based post but it falls under the remit of “something I think is awesome” and culture so I think I will include it.
The complete Six Feet Under box set arrived in the post the other day and it is quite simply one of the best TV shows ever. That can be said about a lot of other shows such as The Soprano’s, The Simpson’s and several others that I have not mentioned.
It was written by Alan Ball shortly after he won the Best Screenplay Oscar for American Beauty. In the commentaries that come along with first season explain to two separate germinations of the show. Firstly the idea was inspired by the tragic death of Ball’s sister and he used the creation of the Fisher family and the Funeral home as a means of catharsis. Secondly, one of the HBO Producers came to Ball with the rough outline, as in “we should do something about a funeral home” and he used the first to start writing.
For those who have not seen the show, or who have avoided it, the plot revolves around the lives of people who work with death. The Funeral Directors deal with death on an almost hourly basis, so how does this affect their lives?
The series opens with Nate Fisher Jnr (Peter Krause) returning to LA from Seattle for Christmas. Whilst driving to meet him, the senior Fisher is hit by a bus and killed. This causes Nate Jnr to stay and help run the family business much to the chagrin of his brother David (Michael C Hall).
When the show first aired I read a companion book called “Reading Six Feet Under” which was a collection of essays and a couple of poems, unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the author/ editor but a search on Amazon should find it. This helped me appreciate the varied themes that are explored in the show.
Firstly, and obviously, there is death. They work with death on a daily basis. They literally live among the dead. A sense professional detachment helps them cope. However, when the deaths are close to home such as Nate Fisher Snr they are just as devastated and unable to cope as the rest of us. The way death, and they dead, are portrayed in the show is interesting in its own right. Many of the characters “see” and “speak” to the dead (most often Nate Snr) and they act as a conduit in to the characters sub-conscious mind. This could have been a rather cheesy gimmick but I believe it was used sparingly enough so as to remain the narrative impact.
Another feature is that each episode (save for the last one) opens with a death. This death is either related to the narrative of the show or introduces a client, this places the audiences focus immediately on death.
The show also highlights, in the first two seasons especially, the corporatisation of the “death industry” in the guise of a Funeral Home chain. This can be seen as a metaphor against the corporate mentality taking over independent businesses and sterilising all aspects of life.
Secondly, the show was revolutionary in its depiction of openly homosexual men. It was, to my knowledge at least, one of the first shows to show gay men as ‘normal’ and not camp. This is reinforced by David’s partner Keith who at the start of the show is a member of the LAPD. There relationship is depicted as one of the most “normal” and healthy in the show. This could be a reflection of Alan Ball’s views as an openly gay man. However, I would like to give him more credit as a writer and see it as a rejection of the stereotypical view of gay relationships. If you do not see what the stereotypical attitude towards gay relationships read Jan Muir’s article about the death of Stephen Gately.
The depiction of sex and sexuality is also worthy of note as the majority of the characters have affairs, multiple partners or are promiscuous. This may be a reversion of the gay stereotype or may just be due to the fact that the writers wanted a lot of sex in.
The show attracted some criticism for being pretentious – I am thinking of a good Family Guy joke – and to an extent it probably was. The show relied on a certain intellectualism, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, personally a show that challenges the audience with metaphor and difficult plots is a refreshing change from the point and laugh style of American TV (such as Two and a Half Men and Glee).
This was made possible by the backing of HBO, a pay-per-view network in the US; because of how it is funded it does not rely on under-estimating Middle America or the American Intellect. As a result it produced The Soprano’s, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Boardwalk Empire and many others.
Agree or disagree? Got bored and stopped reading? Let me know.
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