Six Feet Under: Complete Season Two
With many television series the second year is all important, can they build on an initially successful year and continue to develop in a fashion interesting to the viewers. This task is a bit easier with a premium cable show such as Six Feet Under where there is less pressure than the broadcast networks for the almighty ratings share. Cable networks like HBO can afford more of a niche series and push the envelope far more than the shows on ‘regular’ television. Six Feet Under shares the coveted Sunday night slot with shows like the Sopranos and the now concluded Oz. By staggering the series HBO affords each one more time between seasons allowing great script development and production time. This translates into some of the most imaginative television to date. As the season opens the prodigal son Nat (Peter Krause) discovers he has Arterio-Venous Malformation (AVM), a potentially lethal malformation of the vessels in his brain. In the first season Nat had to face his trepidation in entering the death oriented business, now he faces the consumer side. This opens the season up to one of more self discovery than the first one. In season one we where introduced to the quirky Fisher clan, now each member must face their own subjective ghosts and demons. Claire (Lauren Ambrose) finds her deeper relationship with her boyfriend comes with a price; he is deeply disturbed and troubled. Claire has to grow up fast to attempt to help him through these problems. The Fisher matriarch Ruth (Frances Conroy) truly embodies the arc of self discovery. She continues to date the Russian florist, takes a job outside the family business and even joins a self help group in order to force herself to grow.
As the business faces take over plots, the adult children work on relationships there is the weekly parade of the dead. Each featured ‘corpse of the week’ continues to add the macabre twist that makes this series. They form a sort of Greek chorus, the counterpoint to what is occurring in the lives of the Fishers. No matter what station they held in life death appears to infuse them with wisdom or at least a point of view that cuts right to the heart of the story’s problem at hand. This show just would not work on broadcast networks. At its heart is the ability to tackle the most difficult emotional issues in a frank and often brutal fashion. For a show to concern itself with subjects like death, drugs and every possible type of relationship the lack of commercial limitations provides the vehicle for excellent television. The juxtaposition of this stack reality with the fantastic not only works it excels. While not as ground breaking as the initial season the show continues to grow and develop.
This is one of the best ensemble casts ever assembled. Many of the cast members have plied their craft in theater and with numerous independent films. Peter Krause is perfect as the anti-hero, Nat. He is flawed, human and now faced with his own mortality. Krause brings to Nat true depth and realism. Lauren Ambrose takes Claire beyond the typical television teenager daughter. Sure there is sex and drugs added to the portrayal but more importantly there is an emotional component here that even the adults watching can hook on to and identify with. This season affords us a greater look at the Hispanic assistant Federico (Freddy Rodriguez) and his wife Vanessa (Justina Machado). Together they add a little glimpse outside the Fisher clan, a touchstone for the working family. Jeremy Sisto returns in his presentation of the brilliantly twisted Billy. Here is one character that could have been taken too far over the edge but Sisto’s talent manages to hold a modicum of control and prevents this pivotal character from becoming a self parody. There is chemistry between the cast members; the ability to provide a true synergy, whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Typical of episodic television the role of director is shared between a small group of talented people of vision and talent. While each director gets to add his or her own touches to the show the guiding light here is without a doubt the creator, Alan Ball. The elements that made his film American Beauty such a great film is hard at work here. There is a commitment to bringing the audience quality no matter how bizarre some of the plots get. There is heart to the scripts. We find ourselves really caring about the plight of the characters. Since HBO gives more development time to each episode each one has the feel more of a little independent film. The use of lighting, set design and scene composition is absolutely incredible. Even though much of the action takes place in the Fisher home they often foray out into the world to permit the cast to broaden out with their interactions. With each episode they manage to balance the longer, multi-episode arcs with a story line that are self contained. Part of this is due to the ability of the creator, writers and directors in looking ahead in to the lives of the characters and crafting a fuller over all story than we generally see on television.
As with the first season on DVD this one is given proper attention to the presentation. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video and Dolby surround audio provides a nice, intimate feeling, focusing more on the character than the effects. Among the extras are commentary tracks by creator Alan Ball and some of the writers on pivotal episodes. Again it would have added a lot if the cast were included to provide some insight into their creative choices. Rounding out the extras is a interesting little feature on the profession of undertaking. Even considering the drawbacks in the extras department the box set is a worth it for fans old and new of the series. While priced higher than other full television seasons you have to consider the persistent quality of the series and performances.