All Things Reconsidered: Six Feet Under

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