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All Things Reconsidered: Six Feet Under

Over the next several weeks, PopMatters will be presenting a series of essays exploring Six Feet Under from the show’s gestation and evolution in regards to HBO’s rise as a haven of quality original programming, all the way to its transcendent final six minutes, which set the bar for perfection of a series finale.

Edited by Jake Meaney

On 3 June 2001, Six Feet Under debuted on HBO to great fanfare and even greater expectations. Alan Ball’s quirky funereal family drama was tapped to be the show that, in the wake of The Sopranos unprecedented popular and critical success, would cement cable’s burgeoning reputation as the home for top quality television series, and HBO’s status as ruling the roost of that home.

And though now, looking back over the last decade of television, it’s hard not to see the success of Six Feet Under as somewhat inevitable, at the time it must have seemed an odd and risky choice. An unclassifiable mix of soap-operaish histrionics infused with a streak of brash, black comedy, the show lurched wildly in tone, temper, character, and plotting over the course of its five season run. It was unpredictable, morally ambiguous and messy—but then again, so is life. And despite its obvious obsession with mortality—the absurdity and absoluteness of death is always at the forefront of every episode of the show, literally—Six Feet Under’s true focus was always on the living, on life and how to live it, how to survive, how to navigate the stormy channels of love, sex and death. Over the course of five seasons, the Fisher clan became one of the most fully realized, fully human—flawed, funny, infuriating and fallible—families to inhabit the television landscape.

Over the next several weeks, PopMatters will be presenting a series of essays that explore various aspects of the series, from different angles—from the show’s gestation and evolution in regards to HBO’s rise as a haven of quality original programming, all the way to its transcendent final six minutes, which set the bar for perfection of a series finale. In between we’ll go off on tangents that are unexpected and sometimes odd—just as the show did itself sometimes.

Since Six Feet Under has been off the air for six years, we presume that the statute of limitations on spoilers has long since expired. But, to get the formality of it out of the way, be it known that all of the pieces herein are positively filthy with spoilers. If you are reading any of this, we assume that you have some familiarity with the show. If you haven’t watched it yet, stop what you are doing right now, grab the first season, fire up the DVD player, and get cracking.

—Jake Meaney

Thursday, November 17 2011

A Truly Grand Finalé: The Final Six Minutes of ‘Six Feet Under’

Six Feet Under cements its legacy with a send off that is so sublime, so simple and so perfectly obvious you can't help but laugh... through buckets of tears.

Wednesday, November 16 2011

The Crows Come Home to Roost: The Death of Lisa Kimmel Fisher

Six Feet Under concludes its third season with a bold suite of emotionally devastating episodes that go straight for the jugular, nearly drowning the Fishers -- and the viewers -- under a tidal wave of fear, guilt and despair.

Tuesday, November 15 2011

Better Living Through Therapy: Six Feet Under’s “The Plan”

In the episode "The Plan", Ruth's humorous attempt at self-actualization and self-discovery at a self-help seminar reflects television's ingestion of and obsession with society's therapeutic culture.

Monday, November 14 2011

Defying Convention: “Six Feet Under” and the Unreliable Narrator

A pivotal, emotionally raw argument late in the second season of Six Feet Under completely undermines our perceptions of Nate and Brenda's primal and toxic relationship, illuminating the way the show plays havoc with our sympathies and televisual convention.

Margaret Chenowith: “Six Feet Under’s” Resident Existentialist

The bitter taste that the existentialist worldview may leave in some people’s mouths can be compared to the sting we feel when we meet Margaret Chenowith, the eternally cackling, gleefully hedonistic, complexly troubled mother of Brenda.

Sunday, November 13 2011

Think Big Fisher, Think Different!

Minor in name only, the many minor characters of Six Feet Under play a crucial role in foregrounding the foibles, dilemmas and defining features of the Fishers.

The Madness of Minor Characters

The oddness of minor characters on Six Feet Under often led to the Fishers acting not quite like themselves, illuminating just how normal they were when compared to the rest of the world.

Friday, November 11 2011

Drifting Together, Drifting Apart: Sibling Bonds on ‘Six Feet Under’

Six Feet Under presents one of the most beautiful, honest and painful views into sibling relationships ever presented on television.

Tuesday, November 8 2011

Reconsidering Ruth: Reflecting on Motherhood in ‘Six Feet Under’

Though Six Feet Under does perceptibly depict Ruth attempting to find herself outside of her at time stifling domestic role, she ultimately finds her fulfillment and passion through her role as mother and in her relationships with her children.

Monday, November 7 2011

The Book of Ruth

A decade on, Ruth Fisher, the deceptively buttoned-down, wildly unpredictable matriarch on Six Feet Under, remains a singular representation of motherhood on television.

Sunday, November 6 2011

You Can’t Fix Death: Living Life, Fisher Style

The tumultuous, but loving, relationships within the Fisher family illustrate Six Feet Under's complex and often contradictory views of the well-lived life.

Thursday, November 3 2011

Funeral Songs: The Music of ‘Six Feet Under’

Two specific sequences from two separate episodes of Six Feet Under illustrate the show's complex and sophisticated use of popular music as both dramatic dramatic device and cultural signifier.

Wednesday, November 2 2011

The Funeral Parlor Palette: Color Symbolism in ‘Six Feet Under’

The use of a symbolically coded color palette in Six Feet Under adds a subtle dimension of depth to an already complex and rich array of characters.

Tuesday, November 1 2011

‘Six Feet Under’ and the Funeral Industry

Six Feet Under brought the stark, unglamorous realities of death and dying into living rooms, and shed light on the often times vicious business of the funeral industry.

Monday, October 31 2011

Living the Scream: How ‘Six Feet Under’ Woke TV from the Dream

Six Feet Under went straight for the jugular of the American Dream, daring to suggest it less an ongoing embarrassment of riches, more a shame-filled endurance of unease.

Sunday, October 30 2011

‘Your Whole Life Is Leading Up to This’: Developing ‘Six Feet Under’ at HBO

Kicking off our Six Feet Under series... Like its fellow HBO series, Six Feet Under blurred genre categories, merging elements of soap opera and serialized broadcast dramas alongside nods to art-house cinema and modernist theater.

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