It’s been 15 years since Six Feet Under premiered on HBO, introducing us to the Fisher family. One of the premium network’s best dramas (and one of the best series of all-time), the marquee series spanned 5 seasons, and wrapped up with one of the best and most emotionally satisfying finales of all time. This weekend, HBO2 is running the entire series back-to-back in a marathon to mark its anniversary.
But let’s back it up. For the uninitiated, Six Feet Under tells the story of a family who runs a funeral home in Los Angeles. It picks up immediately after the death of patriarch Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins), which causes his prodigal son Nate (Peter Krause) to return home and face the family he was trying to get away from: adrift mother Ruth (Frances Conroy), perfectionist brother David (Michael C. Hall), and the artsy younger sister, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), that he barely knows.
The series also weaves in the story of Nate’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), a very emotionally closed-off genius with an unstable brother (Jeremy Sisto) with whom she’s a little too close, as well as David’s long-time boyfriend Keith (Mathew St. Patrick), and morgue worker Rico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez) whose family becomes intertwined with the Fishers. It’s a dark comedy that deals with death frankly, in a practical sense (the daily life of running a funeral home) as well as its emotional repercussions that last long after the person is gone (father Nathaniel and others often appear in memories and mental confrontations with the living).
The overarching story of Six Feet Under, though, is Nate not only returning home and coming to terms with his family and his place with them, but also in overriding his fear and cynicism to accept the very concept of death. The series explores the many ways we all deal with death, and the truths of how it defines our lives in 63 episodes with emotional, often very funny moments, and extraordinary visuals that are linked together with a killer soundtrack.
Those who watched the series will know that Six Feet Under wasn’t perfect throughout its run — though overall a wonderfully quirky and strange family drama, for a little while it frustratingly lost its way and lost some of its humor. It finished up in somewhat controversial fashion, which I won’t spoil, even though (as mentioned above) its season finale is perfect. But the journey remains a thoughtful one, even in its shakier times.
I haven’t gone through Six Feet Under again in several years (it’s one of my favorites, and I used to cycle through it regularly), but as I recall it’s still a timely and fascinating exploration of not just a family in grief (who contends with other people’s grief on a daily basis), but of death itself and the many, many reactions to it. It makes death a part of life, in a way that can be cathartic to behold. It will likely elicit strong reactions to it, for better or worse, which is part of its power as a drama.
I wouldn’t recommend trying to DV-R the 63 episodes that are about to drop — if you have HBO, it should be available in their streaming catalogue, and it’s also on Amazon Prime (or just DV-R the first season’s worth and see what you think). But if you have seen it before then consider diving in here and there during this marathon, and reconnecting with the Fishers and Alan Ball’s distinct world. Even in an era of Peak TV, few series can come close to the ambition and admirable execution of this classic.
HBO2 will start its Six Feet Under marathon on Thursday, June 2nd at 11p.m., and will run all 63 episodes back to back, concluding on Sunday, June 5th at 12:20 p.m.