For me, it's going to be hard to find a show with the same emotional relevance, gripping storylines or sheer brilliance as Six Feet Under. The show depicted the lives of the Fisher family, who owned and operated a funeral home in California. Each episode began with the death of the individual they would bury that episode, but it wasn't all black hats and Kleenex boxes. The show also had terrifically funny moments -- like fantasy sequences, when characters would act out what they'd really like to say or do -- and a profundity and realness that has seldom been matched, on cable or pay-per-view.
These days, Peter Krause plays reliable nice guy Adam Braveman on Parenthood; Michael C. Hall is finishing up his run as the psychotic serial killer on Dexter; Rachel Griffiths operates a family getaway as Mackenzie on Camp; Frances Conroy was a scary half-blind lady maid on American Horror Story; Lauren Ambrose has cropped up in several Broadway productions; and Jeremy Sisto is over-protective father on Suburgatory. But no matter what other characters they play, most people will probably still think of them as the Fishers (and Billy, who thankfully never married into the family). Because so many of them have appeared weekly on our TV screens in the past year, I thought it would be a good idea to go back over their characters' best moments on SFU. Hey, it's better than watching Camp -- Rachel Griffiths, I know you're better than that.
Nate (Peter Krause)
Nate was an improbable character to lead Six Feet Under from the get-go. At first, he seemed flighty and unsure of what he wanted, and it was sometimes hard to empathize with his "cool," commitment-phobic character. As the seasons went on, Nate became more wrapped up in himself, while at the same time also taking on greater responsibilities at Fisher and Sons and at home, especially after his daughter was born. The character's struggle to find meaning in his life was a series-long motif, one that was highlighted in Nate's best scene, from the Season 3 premiere. The episode opens with Nate on the operating table after he suffers a brain hemorrhage. In one of the Six Feet Under's best fantasy sequences, Nate flutters between life and death while imagining all the different turns his life could have taken. We get to see White Trash Nate, Dutiful Son Nate, Married Nate, etc. Each of these peaks into an alternative universe was both comical and disturbing, highlighting how fragilely-constructed Nate's reality was, as well as how easily it could have all turned out so differently
David (Michael C. Hall)
Despite having a serious problem letting loose, David has always been my favorite character. Sure, he was bitter about giving up his life to run Fisher and Sons while Nate went off to live it up as the assistant manager of a food co-op in Seattle, but he also had some of the wittiest moments of the show, especially in later seasons after he came out and became a lot less anal retentive. There were several times over the course of the series where all his anxiety would bubble up inside and finally just burst out, creating both a funny moment and a telling look inside the character's psyche -- remember when he took Ecstasy to impress a guy and danced around like an idiot in Season 1? Then there was Season 4, when David's boyfriend (and eventual husband) Keith took a job as a security guard for the teen pop singer Celeste (Michelle Trachtenberg -- which reminds me, SFU also had a tremendous number of great guest stars: Rainn Wilson, Adam Scott, Kathy Bates, Patricia Clarkson, etc.). David was pissed that Keith wasn't out at his job, especially after Keith berated David for not being out at the beginning of their relationship. During the midst of this argument, David was also trying to record a message for their answering machine, which hadn't been working. Finally, in a fit of frustration, he records the following message: "Hi! You've reached David and Keith, but we can't come to the phone right now because we're too gay!" It was a laugh-out-loud moment, but it also illustrated just how far David had come. I just would love to have seen Keith's big bad security guard buddies hear that message the next time they called up.
Claire (Lauren Ambrose)
Unlike the rest of the Fisher family, we got to watch Claire grow up right before our eyes. Seeing her become an adult while trying to survive in that madhouse made her immensely sympathetic. The fact that she was completely aware of just how strange it all was often put her in the position of the show's Greek chorus -- one of her best lines is "I know stealing a foot is weird. But, hello, living in a house where a foot is available to be stolen is weird." As such, it was only right that Claire be the character to guide the audience through the show's final minutes. The series finale, "Everyone's Waiting" was as close to perfection as a final episode can get. In those last few minutes, we watch as Claire says goodbye and drives away from her family, not knowing when she'll see them again. Then we see each of the Fishers' deaths play out one by one. As the series came to a close, so did the lives of each of the characters we had loved for five seasons. It's one of the most emotional ten minutes of TV to ever be shot. I dare you not to tear up watching.
Ruth (Frances Conroy)
Ruth has always been one of my favorite little television weirdos. A control freak unable to cope with the fact that her children were growing up, Ruth tried to compensate by carving out a life for herself after her husband's death. This frequently involved experimenting with a diverse array of sexual partners and participating as various self-betterment programs like The Plan (which turned out to kind of be a cult). In "Ecotone," the ninth episode of Season 5, Ruth finally gets revenge on all the men who did her wrong. In brilliant fantasy sequence, she pulls out a shotgun and murders Hiram, Nikolai, Arthur, George and finally Nate Sr. They all go down like cartoon cutouts at a state fair, and Ruth finally gets some peace.
Brenda (Rachel Griffiths)
Yet another major kook -- though really, who wasn't on this show -- Brenda morphed from an anonymous one night stand into the love of Nate's life over the course of the show. A genius with an IQ of 185, Brenda was often unable (or unwilling) to comprehend Nate's fear of death or his crazy, repressed family. In one of the pair's most outrageous sequences, from the episode "Life's Too Short," Brenda insists that they visit several funeral homes and plan fake funerals, so that Nate can get more comfortable with his own mortality. Yeah, that doesn't work out so well. At the final home, Brenda surprises Nate by pretending to have cancer and proceeding to plan her own funeral. It's a pretty gross concept, but it perfectly illustrated Brenda's wacky attitudes about life and social rules, as well as her most annoying flaws: selfishness and lack of desire to empathize.
Billy (Jeremy Sisto)
Billy was an extremely divisive character on Six Feet Under. He (and Brenda) blamed his dangerous, inappropriate behavior on his bipolar disorder, but really I think Billy was just a dick. His best scenes were in Season 1, when he tried repeatedly to come in between Nate and Brenda because he was jealous of their relationship. For a time, Brenda attempted to deny that her brother needed to be institutionalized, despite the fact that he took pictures of her and Nate sleeping together and then lured Nate into a creepy art installation depicting these photographs. Brenda finally saw reason in the season's penultimate episode, "A Private Life." In Billy's best scene of the series, he staggered into Brenda's house wielding a knife. Turns out, he cut off his own lower back tattoo in a delusional fit. He came by Brenda's so he could remove Brenda's matching tramp stamp as well. That was awfully thoughtful, but Brenda didn't really go for the idea, and managed to escape. The scene made clear once and for all how messed up Billy actually was, and featured some great acting by Sisto, who was able to portray Billy as both frightening and a sympathetic victim simultaneously.
What are your favorite moments from Six Feet Under? Do you find Billy as fascinating as I do? Share your thoughts in the comments below?
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