To get straight to the point, HBO's Six Feet Under is consistently one of the best-written and most compelling shows on TV. The first season featured an intriguing premise, great characters, and top-notch performances. For these reasons (and many more), Six Feet Under has enjoyed a formidable amount of success since the series first premiered in June of 2001. Needless to say, it got off to a running start, and hasn't looked back since.
Unfortunately, I must admit that I wasn't a fan from the beginning. There's a good reason for this: despite boasting an amazing lineup of shows (The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Oz, etc.), I'm not a regular subscriber to HBO. Fortunately, I was able to snag the first season of Six Feet Under on DVD shortly after its initial release, and it simply blew me away. It's not often that I can remain glued to the TV regularly for any show---let alone a near-marathon viewing of the season---but the strength of Six Feet Under really captured my attention. The first season, for lack of a better term, was literally a work of art.
Season Two keeps the pace nicely, featuring a great line-up of episodes and some of the series' finest moments to date. Several new characters are introduced, including Keith's young niece Taylor and Mitzi Huntley, the regional director for Kroehner (the rival company looking to buy out the funeral home). New relationships are built, others are strengthened, and a few fall apart. Stand-out episodes from this season include the excellent Christmas-themed It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, featuring a biker-themed funeral and the death of Santa Claus. From start to finish, these 13 episodes were consistently engaging, making it nearly impossible to watch just one per sitting. With the absence of the "reset button" found on most other television shows, the deliberate pace of Six Feet Under has the ability to leave viewers hungry for more at each episode's conclusion. To make a long story short, Six Feet Under is like a great book: easy to get into, and hard to put down.
Although the series has progressed much since the first season, the visual style and thematic elements of the show remain largely the same. Still present are strong doses of spirituality, dysfunction, family bonding and black comedy, all blended seamlessly by excellent performances from the cast and crew. The understated music score (highly reminiscent of creator Alan Ball's own American Beauty) remains a striking atmospheric backdrop. The detailed work of the production team continues to amaze with highly convincing depictions of the deceased. In short, it's just as good as the first season---if not slightly better---and makes for a wonderfully unique viewing experience.
This collection of Six Feet Under on DVD contains the entire 13-episode run of the second season spread over five discs. Below is a brief listing of the included episodes in this collection, and complete recaps (with spoilers) can be found in the 'Other Links of Interest' section following this review.
In The Game (originally aired March 3rd, 2002) - Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
- Includes optional Audio Commentary with director Rodrigo Garcia
Out, Out Brief Candle (originally aired March 10th, 2002) - Directed by Kathy Bates
The Plan (originally aired March 17th, 2002) - Directed by Rose Troce
Driving Mr. Mossback (originally aired March 24th, 2002) - Directed by Michael Cuesta
The Invisible Woman (originally aired March 31st, 2002) - Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
In Place of Anger (originally aired April 7th, 2002) - Directed by Michael Engler
Back to the Garden (originally aired April 14th, 2002) - Directed by Dan Attias
- Includes optional Audio Commentary with director Dan Attias
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (originally aired April 21st, 2002) - Directed by Alan Taylor
Someone Else's Eyes (originally aired April 28th, 2002) - Directed by Michael Cuesta
The Secret (originally aired May 5, 2002) - Directed by Alan Poul
- Includes optional Audio Commentary with producer/director Alan Poul
The Liar and the Whore (originally aired May 12th, 2002) - Directed by Miguel Arteta
I'll Take You (originally aired May 19th, 2002) - Directed by Michael Engler
- Includes optional Audio Commentary with writer Jill Soloway
The Last Time (originally aired June 2nd, 2002) - Directed by Alan Ball
- Includes optional Audio Commentary with creator/director Alan Ball
As of 2004, the fourth season of Six Feet Under is currently underway. For most regular followers, this collection will be a welcome trip down memory lane. For relatively new fans (and those who have become fans of the show since the first release), this second season is really worth the wait. It's been well over a year since the first DVD release (extending the usual 12-month stretch between HBO season releases), and was even delayed for a short time. Thankfully, HBO has really delivered the goods here, as this second collection of Six Feet Under features the same great presentation as the first. From an excellent technical presentation of the show to a modest (but highly informative) set of extras, it's a well-rounded release that fits this show like a glove...er, body bag.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Presentation:
Like the first season, this collection continues HBO's excellent track record for superb technical presentations. The video is presented in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio, featuring accurate colors and a modest amount of clarity. This is not a show meant to look sterile and polished (despite the subject matter), so don't expect a razor-sharp image and vivid color palette. However, HBO has presented this show as faithfully as possible, and it really looks great. The audio is presented in a multitude of choices, including 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo mixes. Each of these offers excellent clarity and a decent level of ambience. The wonderful score also shines here, adding much to the subtle (but well-designed) atmosphere. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Again, HBO has really done an excellent job here, as Six Feet Under boasts an excellent presentation in both menu designs and packaging. The animated menus are similar to the first season, complementing the dark blue and earth-tones of the show's opening sequence, and also feature selections from the score. Each 60-minute episode is presented with six chapter stops, and no layer changes were detected. The packaging also deserves extra-special mention, as the first season's was the subject of much debate. Gone is the oversized box with the pop-up design, and a more simple presentation is offered in its place. Reminiscent of the packaging design for The Sopranos, the outer box for Six Feet Under is roughly the same size as most standard DVD releases (albeit a bit wider), and is handsomely designed. The five-disc digipak "book" rests snugly inside in the box, and really looks sharp. A big improvement over the cumbersome Season One packaging.
First up are the five Audio Commentaries for various episodes, which have been provided above in the episode listing. Featuring a variety of contributors (most of which directed their respective episodes), these commentaries are a welcome inclusion. Each provides a nice insight into the production of some of the season's key episodes, and it would have been great to hear even more. Series creator Alan Ball even provides the track for the final episode, but the cast is still nowhere to be found.
The other notable bonus feature is a 20-minute documentary entitled Anatomy of a Working Stiff (seen above), which gives a nice behind-the-scenes look at the show's production department; specifically, how they create the "corpses". Featuring contributions from Alan Ball and members of the production team, it's a great look at a genuinely interesting aspect of the show. It's anything but filler, and even worth repeated viewings. Also here is a very brief Season One Recap, as well as Season Two previews and recaps (presented with each episode). Oh, and there's another strange inclusion here: a limited edition Trading Card (collect 'em all?). Here's the bottom line: while this lineup may look a little slim compared to other boxed sets, everything complements the show well.
If I haven't made it blindingly obvious by now, Six Feet Under is easily one of television's best-kept secrets. This second compilation provides a great set of episodes, combined with an excellent overall presentation. Sure, the price tag may be a little stiff (okay, a lot stiff), but I'm not exaggerating when I say it's worth every penny. Newcomers to the show would do well in starting with the first season, but long-time fans have much to look forward to here. From top to bottom, this is a rock-solid release of a brilliant show. What more could you ask for? Highly Recommended.
Other Links of Interest
Six Feet Under Complete Season Guide at TV Tome (with spoilers)
Official Six Feet Under Website at HBO.com (alternate guide included)
Six Feet Under: The Compete First Season - Review by Ron Epstein
Randy Miller III (1979- ) is an art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, and also works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.