So it's been a while, hasn't it? I know this blog is dedicated to film criticism, but I'm making an exception here, as I just finished the final episode of Six Feet Under, HBO's critical darling that finished its five-year run this past summer. Six Feet Under emerged alongside The Sopranos and Sex and the City, legitimizing HBO and making its credibility soar above the Matthew McConaughey movies, sex specials, and the occasional stand-up hour they were previously known for. In a sense, HBO was taking a chance, something Hollywood hasn’t done in a long time. Out of the three HBO darlings, Six Feet Under was the riskiest: an entire show about death? Alan Ball, an Oscar winner for American Beauty, apparently created the series after the death of his sister and created something far more poignant and beautiful than his beloved Oscar winner.
Television? Film purists scoff at the suggestion that television might have produced something even remotely meaningful. Television brought about the death of cinema. As I believe Godard said, television removed the audience’s ability to “look.” Of course I believe this to be true, though I’ve never known life without television. Come fourteen, I unplugged reception on my TV and allowed it to be only used for film-viewing (aside from the Twin Peaks obsession I had… but, I allowed myself that indulgence because David Lynch was a filmmaker… he wasn’t Ray Ramano or Ted Danson). Somehow, though, thanks to HBO’s risk-taking, television has finally become something to truly rival the cinema. What TV has that film doesn’t is the advantage of time. Though most television shows have a structure to their episodes (Six Feet Under always begins with a death that essentially shapes the rest of the episode, Law & Order solves the crime by the end credits), there’s a serious investment one can make in the characters that film doesn’t have. Do you not feel closer to a character after spending thirteen hours with them, as opposed to ninety minutes? This, too, is what makes it harder for me to talk about Six Feet Under than a film I just watched. I’ve spent over sixty hours watching this family, their secrets, their pains, their joys… and it’s gotten to the point where I know them nearly as well as I know some of my close friends. But despite all these distracting emotions, Six Feet Under, as a whole, stands as one of the most powerful artistic explorations of the human condition.
The show itself is a helluva a lot better than you are. You may hate a particular character (I know plenty of people who can do without the emotionally-unstable Brenda (Rachel Griffiths, who was probably the only known actor prior to the show's premiere)) or character's action, but the camera, nor the show, never does. Probably the greatest strength of Six Feet Under is its ability to allow the characters to unfold, fuck up, cry, reflect without ever throwing a blanket of judgement over them. This is not to say characters don't pay for their actions, but the show allows for the other characters to pass out the judgements. A character's infidelity, lie, or mistake adds to their own complexity and our own understanding of this complexity. Why would David, at the time perfectly happy in a relationship, accept a blowjob from a stranger? Why does Claire fall back into a relationship with a man she knows will never work for her? I could site examples for a long time, but what I'm trying to get it the way Six Feet Under shows us the inhabitants of its world. Actions don't always have their simple cause and effect. Point A doesn't have to lead to Point B.
As for Season 5... (I'm going to get emotional)
The show closes its book perfectly. It's almost hard for me to separate myself from my feelings here. I can't even fathom taking its series finale and looking at it objectively. I know these people too well (this bond may be even more strong than the bond I discussed in my blog about The Virgin Spring). The culmination of five seasons with the Fisher family became something far more stirring, rich, painful, beautiful than perhaps anything I'd seen in the cinema in the past year or so. I'm sort of hating myself right now for not even knowing the words to express how I feel/felt. I may have to post more when I can separate myself better from this. Sorry it seemed as if I had a lot to say.