The Fisher family is back for a second season, and compared to real cremators, says Nancy Miller, they're pure Ecstasy
Ed O'Ross, Eric Balfour, ...
Credit: Six Feet Under: Larry Watson

The show is rising from the ashes

If there were ever a moment for mortuary science, this is it. HBO’s sleeper-hit series ”Six Feet Under” is alive and well, judging by the first episode of its second season, which kicked off Sunday night with a flashy Hollywood premiere. A heck of a hearse-ride from the grim area of Los Angeles where the Fisher family deals with the dead, last night’s pre-show slab of red carpet included interviews with a radiant cast, particularly Rachel Griffiths, whose pulse is still racing from her recent Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe award.

Much of the initial hype about last season that launched the show was the morbidly unique (and extraordinarily graphic) subject matter: They see dead people. For a living. However, this season already feels different. Perhaps it’s due in part to the very real, very grisly discovery two weeks ago of nearly 300 corpses dumped outdoors to rot by an unscrupulous crematory owner in rural Georgia. After seeing that on the news, the gruesome side of the Fisher & Sons undertaking biz suddenly seems…quaint. Despite Nate and David’s differences on how to run their recently deceased father’s funeral business, at the very least they agree that when they say they’re gonna cremate someone, they get the job done. (At least they did with last night’s body, the unfortunate Becky, a Hollywood starlet who sparkled at her own movie premiere, then OD’ed her way into a cardboard box.)

Or perhaps the show really is reaching for a sweeter emotional register, one that was numbed-down last year. Maybe it’s the sympathetic effect of Nate’s Ecstasy appetizer, but the family dinner scene was a hilarious moment of harmony, for them at least, which seems to be what these characters want. True, their lives are still racked with conflict, but as characters, they seem to behave more naturally as a family versus last season’s house of hissing ghouls. Could it be that between car crashes, brain tumors, marriage proposals and a certain closet door creaking open, this clan of embalmers has begun to bond? Even Ma Fisher appears to be more alive with her new relationship and sincere effort to understand her gay son (maybe that’s the E at work on her too.)

Her wardrobe, however, is in need of a proper burial. Anyone who has spent more than eight minutes in the greater Los Angeles area knows that no woman, even the undertaker’s wife, would dress like Ruth Fisher does. The woman is in her 50s. Why do they dress this blossoming female character like she’s Tony Soprano’s mother?

Another intriguing fallout of that heart-sickening crematory incident is that these fictional characters’ outrageous antics now have built-in believability, something that ”Six Feet” creator Alan Ball faltered with last season. Claire’s laissez faire attitude about vengefully planting a stolen foot in her beau’s locker, for example, seemed improbable, even for a teenager. Now after seeing the, er, footage from Georgia, the ”Six Feet Under” audience can only think, Hey, if this guy could do this and he’s real, then these Fisher freaks are capable of ANYTHING.

What they don’t seem capable of, however, are happy romantic relationships. David’s sexaholism gave him a very un-bootylicious case of the clap, while things between Nate and Brenda are tense. No, not tense as in getting busted in delicto by Mama Fisher. In fact, it seems the absence of sex is the issue for this formerly potent couple (you do remember how they met), specifically since the car accident. It will be interesting to watch the unraveling between the two: Brenda seems to be sinking into depression, while Nate seems optimistic after a dream of Life (a middle aged black woman eating potato chips) giving Death (a middle-aged white guy smoking a cigar) a bump and grind lap dance. Maybe for Nate it’s the brain tumor talking (FYI: For the sake of accuracy, to quote the Arnold, it is not a tumah. It’s actually Arterio-Venous Malformation, a congenital condition) but the prodigal son seems ready to redeem himself.

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