Six Feet Under - Season One
HBO // Unrated // $99.98 // February 4, 2003
Review by Ron J. Epstein | posted February 12, 2003
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Graphical Version
Nate: "My dad is supposed to meet me here."
Brenda: "I could give you a ride."
Nate: "Oh, that's alright. I'm sure he'll be here soon enough."
Brenda: "I wasn't talking about that kind of ride."

The Feature:
"Six Feet Under" is one of the most unconventional shows to ever hit television. The brainchild of Alan Ball, the man behind "American Beauty", "Six Feet Under" is about the amazingly unique Fisher family and the people in their lives. The Fishers aren't like most families, as they own and operate their own business, a funeral home aptly named "Fisher and Sons", which also serves as their place of residence. Touting a strong and talented cast, "Six Feet Under" mixes elements of dark comedy and drama to create one unique show.

For instance, every episode begins with somebody's death (this person ends up becoming a "client" for Fisher and Sons Funeral Home). Now what is so intriguing about this gimmick, is that you have no idea who is going to die, and how they are going to die… the only thing you know for certain is that somebody is about to perish. The best way to explain this concept is by giving an example (please note that I made up this scenario, and this in no way is a spoiler). Picture a couple friends getting together to play a game of softball together. The guy at bat is overweight, and pauses the game because he's having chest pains. Beads of sweat form on his brow, but he decides to keep playing. You figure he's the one who's about to die, right? The pitcher lobs a ball at him, and he hits a line drive right into the shortstop's face. The shortstop is dead. That's the brilliance of "Six Feet Under."

Unlike most dramas today, "Six Feet Under" doesn't rely on clichés, rather it focuses in on real issues, like family dysfunction, confronting one's sexual preference, and growing up around death, among others. Before I get into an episode synopsis, let me introduce you to the main cast of "Six Feet Under." Please be forewarned, as there may be some spoilers contained in the below character summaries:

Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) – Living in Seattle for the past few years, he decides to come back home for the holidays, but ends up sticking around to help the family business. He's very laid back, and enjoys a good jog every morning. He's constantly at odds with his brother David, who feels that he bailed on the family, leaving him behind to shoulder all of the responsibility. His relationship with Brenda is very loving, but complex.

David Fisher (Michael C. Hall) – Born into the family business, David is probably the most conflicted character on the show. Only recently is he coming close to coming to terms with his homosexuality, but to the dismay of his closet gay lover, Keith, he isn't progressing fast enough. Usually the most tactical and anal of the bunch, David becomes more reckless as time goes on, and eventually ends up in hot water.

Ruth Fisher (Francis Conroy) – The matriarch of the Fisher clan, Ruth comes off as a nervous wreck most times. She longs for a deeper relationship with her children, and often has to force herself on them. But behind her motherly attitude is a woman who longs for some excitement in her life, in the form of a man named Hiram, and a job at Nikolai's Flower Shop.

Claire Fisher (Lauren Ambrose) – The youngest of the Fisher children (she's at least 10 years younger than David), is also going through the rebellious teenage phase. She drives around in a green hearse, and has an on-again off-again relationship with Gabe, her sometimes boyfriend. Claire is undecided about her future, most notably if she wants to go to college or not.

Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths) - Brenda, Nate's sexually adventurous girlfriend, is a genius. Touting a mysterious tattoo on her lower back that reads "Nathaniel", Brenda is still lashing out at her parents, two obnoxious know-it-all psychiatrists. She has a special relationship with her brother, Billy. He is mentally unstable, and she has sacrificed a great deal of her life to be there for him.

Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez) - More commonly referred to as Rico, he is the Fisher and Sons Funeral Home restorative artist (he makes the body look presentable for the funeral). Often feeling that he does most of the work for little pay, Rico yearns to be a partner along with both Nate and David.

Keith Charles (Michael St. Patrick) - Keith is a black, out-of-the-closet LAPD officer who David has been dating secretly for some time now. This doesn't sit well with Keith, who wants David to finally admit to the world what he really is.

Now that you know the main characters, let's discuss the episodes. "Six Feet Under: The Complete First Season" features 13 episodes, each with a running time of approximately an hour. Below are summaries. Be forewarned again, there are some potential spoilers in their descriptions.

Disc 1:
Pilot - Without a doubt, one of the most compelling hours of television I've ever seen. It's Christmas Eve, and Nate is coming home for the holidays. On the plane he meets Brenda, a woman who seems to be free, both sexually and mentally. A sudden tragedy in the Fisher household mars his homecoming; and as a result, many secrets that could destroy them all are revealed. Obviously, more things happen in this episode then I mention, but I don't want to ruin anything for you
Episode Grade: A

The Will - Nate decides to stick around and help his brother David around the funeral home. Unfortunately for David, Nate doesn't know many of the laws pertaining to the business, which results in financial trouble for Fisher and Sons Funeral Home. Meanwhile, Ruth breaks things off with her lover, and Claire is talked into sucking the toes of Gabe, her boyfriend. Episode Grade: B+

The Foot - Nate and David contemplate selling the family business to Kroehner, a rival competitor. When things don't go their way, Kroehner decides to purchase the abandoned house across the street to set up shop and put them out of business. After Gabe tells everyone at school about Claire and what she did to his toes, a scorned Claire finds a creative way to get even with him. Along with her best friend, Ruth decides to visit a horse track and do some gambling.
Episode Grade: B+

Disc 2:
Familia - The funeral for a gang member proves to cause more trouble than anticipated. Nate invites Brenda over for dinner, but fails to make a good impression on Ruth, who walks in on the both of them in a compromising position. David stands up to Kroehner, delivering a threat uncharacteristic of him that will make you cheer out loud in approval.
Episode Grade: A-

An Open Book - A porno star dies, and Fisher and Sons handle the funeral (check out the oddballs who show up for it). David's decision to take a more proactive role in church unsettles David, his gay lover. Ruth decides that she isn't spending enough time with her daughter, and they both take a trip to their cousin's sickeningly sweet house. Meanwhile, Nate is tricked into having dinner with Brenda's parents, who just so happen to be know-it-all psychiatrists. And last, but certainly not least, we are introduced to Billy.
Episode Grade: A-

The Room - Claire meets Brenda's brother Billy, and there is an instant, although unsettling, chemistry. Nate learns that his father had quite a few secrets, including a mysterious room that he used when he wanted to get away. A super annoying and pushy member of the church, Tracy Montrose Blair, attempts to hook her claws into David. One thing I really liked about this episode is the performance from the actor who plays the grieving widow. He's the perfect jerk with love in his heart.
Episode Grade: B

Brotherhood - A battle between a brother and the Army brews over whether a young soldier should have a military funeral or be cremated, and the Fisher brothers are caught in the middle. Bored with life, Ruth decides to take a job working for Nikolai, but has zero experience working as a florist. Finally, Billy's mental "breakdown" spoils Brenda and Nate's plans for the weekend. One of the more mediocre episodes in this set, although it did a good job of building up the dependant relationship between Brenda and her brother.
Episode Grade: B-

Disc 3:
Crossroads - Business is slow at Fisher and Sons, and as a result, Nate and David rent out the slumber room for senior dance classes. Rico uses the cover of his wife needing another ultrasound to leave work early, but Nate knows better when he notices that his tools are missing. Claire is stuck on a boring hike in the mountains, which leads to her unexpected friendship with someone she's always hated. Financial luck for Fisher and Sons comes in the form of a fatal bus crash. Talk about dark humor.
Episode Grade: B

Life's Too Short - Through tragic circumstances, Gabe is thrust back into Claire's life. Brenda looks to sharpen Nate's salesmanship skills, and takes him to various funeral homes to help him learn the trade. David goes clubbing, and Ruth goes camping with Hiram. A good episode, as we begin to witness David's reckless side taking over.
Episode Grade: B

The New Person - Now employed by Kroehner, the Fisher brothers decide to hire a replacement for Rico in the form of an exhibitionist named Angela. The Fisher family is invited to see Billy's pictures at a gallery exhibit, and nobody is more surprised than Nate at what's on display. A real step from the last four episodes, as the dark comedy was in full force here.
Episode Grade: A-

Disc 4:
The Trip - There's a Funeral Director's conference in Las Vegas, and Brenda along with the Fisher brothers attend. Brenda and Nate have a good time, while David ends up wishing he had stayed home. Meanwhile, Rico is back to work, and is having issues between his most recent "client" and his pregnant wife. A really great episode, packed with very funny and highly dramatic moments. One of the best hours of TV I've ever seen.
Episode Grade: A

A Private Life - The murder of a gay man causes David to confront his identity issues. Billy pays separate visits to Nate and Brenda, each with disastrous consequences. Ruth bonds with Robbie the florist in an unusual way, while Claire is less than forthcoming with the school psychiatrist. This is an awesome episode; highlighted by the Brenda/Nate/Billy story arc hitting it's high.
Episode Grade: A

Knock, Knock - Tracey Montrose Blaire is back, and she's a funeral director's worst nightmare. Nate takes his funeral director exam again. David impresses Keith with his newfound confidence, and Rico celebrates the birth of his son at a christening party held at the Fisher and Sons Funeral Home. Obviously, there's a lot more going on here than I let on. This episode is filled with intense moments, especially when we see another side of Claire's boyfriend, Gabe. Excellent finale.
Episode Grade: A

Video:
HBO presents "Six Feet Under: The Complete First Season" in full frame 1.33:1. There has been some discussion what the original aspect ratio of the show was, and if I recall correctly, it originally aired on HBO in full frame (unlike "Sopranos" which is shown in widescreen). Anyways, "Six Feet Under" looks great, improving on the video quality of when it originally aired on HBO. Colors are absolutely beautiful, as there are plenty of contrasting shots to show you the depth of the color palette. Flesh tones are accurate, and the print is essentially free of artifacting, grain, and pixelation. Major props to HBO for doing a great job here.

Audio:
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish 1.0, and French 1.0. "Six Feet Under" consists of mainly character dialogue, but the show's haunting score sounds absolutely amazing on my system. Everything sounds crisp and clean, with no pops or audio dropouts whatsoever. Once again, HBO continues to deliver quality television sets.

Menus:
"Six Feet Under" features one of the more visually pleasant DVD menus I've seen in recent memory. Scenes from the show of each character are depicted while a piano plays in the background. "Episode Index", "Language Selection", and "Special Features." One thing I don't like about the menu design is that when you choose "Episode Index", you see scenes from the upcoming episodes, which contain MAJOR spoilers. HBO is notorious for doing this on their television sets. Once you select an episode, you are given the following options: "Previously On", "Next On", "Scene Selection", and Play Episode." All in all, aside from the spoilers, the menu is excellent, and everything is laid out very nicely.

Extras:
If you like extras, then you are sure to be pleased with the bonuses on this set. Episodes 1 and 13 feature a commentary track by series creator Alan Ball. He is not afraid to poke fun at himself, and the show's content, but he does it while maintaining the integrity of the show. He is often informative, offering neat tidbits about casting among other topics. One problem with his commentary is that it was recorded AFTER season 2 wrapped up, so at times, he discusses storylines that continue past season 1. In addition, I would have preferred a cast commentary somewhere in this set (Peter Krause would have been fun to listen to), but Alan Ball's commentaries will have to do.

On Disc 1, we are treated to a "Deleted Scene" with two optional commentaries (both by Alan Ball). Also included on this disc is a featurette on the creation of the opening titles entitled "Under the Main Titles" (say that three times fast). It's around 16 minutes long, but unfortunately, didn't hold my attention past 4 minutes. Still, it's better to have it than not have it.

On Disc 4, A "Behind the Scenes" featurette is also included. The cast and filmmakers are interviewed, and discuss the direction of their characters, as well as their favorite moments from season 1. This featurette clocks in at over 20 minutes. An interesting bonus is the inclusion of two isolated music tracks; one is the "Six Feet Under Title Theme" by Thomas Newman, and the other is "Kid Loco's Gravebeat Mix" (a remix of the "Six Feet Under Title Theme). In addition, each disc of "Six Feet Under" contains "Cast & Filmmakers", "Awards & Nominations", a "Series Index", and a "DVD-ROM/web link"

The Packaging:
Usually I never discuss the package of a DVD in my reviews, but after reading countless posts discussing the set, I felt the need to address this issue. The box is slightly taller than originally expected. While most DVDs have a length of approximated 7.5", the "Six Feet Under" box clocks in at 8.5". For some, this has caused spacing problems on their shelves. But honestly, an extra inch should not deter you from purchasing this set if you had your mind set on it. One mistake I noticed is that the insert mistakenly notes that Episode #4 is located on the first disc, while it's really located on the second (the second disc is the only one with four episodes). In summation, "Six Feet Under" boasts one of the most innovative packaging designs I have seen yet. When you open the case, a foldout containing four DVDs pops out. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Final Thoughts:
HBO really put together a fine package here with "Six Feet Under." If you like the show, then a decision on whether you should purchase it or not is a no-brainer. Run out and buy this now. For those of you who have never seen the show, I strongly suggest you check it out. One caveat is the very high MSRP of $99.98. Regardless, the price tag should not hinder you from checking out the finest drama on television today.



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