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Six Feet Under the Weather?

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I come not to bury Six Feet, but to praise it. There’s no denying that Six Feet under was a bit sickly, if not yet on it’s deathbed, last season. The brilliant actress Lilly Taylor played Nate’s wife with such force, and was so irritating, that it was genuinely difficult to watch each scene she was in. Rachel Griffiths’ Brenda was making a slow…very, very slow, recovery from sex addiction, all part of Alan Ball’s belief system that no joy should go without some pain thrown on top of it. In what must have the the most coma-inducing plotline last season, Ruth – usually make sparkling by Frances Conroy – was wooed by Babe the pig’s dad. I would almost have rather watched “The Simple Life 2” than their romance, and let me add I’d rather have my eye sliced open with a straight razor than have to look at any image, transmitted, painted, or otherwise interpreted of Paris Hilton again. Someone needs to remake Freddy Rodriguez’s character Rico, his subplots have needed embalming, as they are so tired to nearly be deceased.

But on to the Fischer family kids, the heart of the show. Lauren Ambrose’s Claire, full of laid-back intensity, put to utter waste with her plots. She joins an art school, and instead of the usual problems high-schoolers taking art to a new level run into, her main problem is how to express her art. Not say, learning her craft, learning what art has been done before to avoid the common problem of repeating things that have already been done. No, she apparently needs no schooling at all, she just needs to express herself. Mr. Ball evidently believes the great artists do not need to study anything of art history, they just absorb it, possibly at house parties, which is almost the only thing Claire attends anymore. There is so much talent in Miss Ambrose that it truly saddens me that the storyline that back her is so out of touch with reality, when the Claire’s acute awareness is the core of her character.

David C. Hall is always sympathetic in a role that in lesser hands could have been too preening, and definitely too annoying, and he constantly amazes me with his acting choices. There’s no escaping the fact the drama he is saddled with, meaning his tumultuous relationship with Keith, seems to be missing something. Namely, a good reason why we should care so much about this relationship. Now, it must be said Mr. Ball has a less horrific case of this condition, which I call the “why care about me” disease of screenwriting. The writer, in putting himself in the script, leaves out the reasons you should care about the character because he just assumes you care about him. Mr. Ball in this case fails to get us involved in caring about the relationship between the two characters, although it must be said we’re fascinated by the characters themselves, no small thanks to the great actors in this case. It’s a much less bad problem than what infects anything that Mike Binder has written, where he not only forgets to make us care about his character (played by him in most shows and movies), but actually doesn’t realize most of us actually loathe him.

Peter Krause playing Nate was a revelation in the first season. Few actors could stand up against an actress like Rachel G. and hold their own, but Nate did it. However last season, be it the bad-wife plotline, or his overall lack of reasons we should not think he’s a prick, he seemed to be adrift. Maybe the way this guy has been drifting away is part of a larger plot, but honestly, when he isn’t playing off against Brenda, it’s hard to see why we’re watching Nate anymore. He’s like Kirk without a Spock.

This season, so far they seem to be trying to bring Nate out of the doldrums, leaving Ruth married to Mr. Babe, but otherwise so far not a lot has changed. There’s still hope though, although since Six Feet Under is the only reason we have HBO right now it’s a pricey little drama. The brutal burial of his wife gave Nate a new kind of fire this season, and perhaps this will mean better dynamics for the rest of the cast as well. It may be safe to say it’s going to live a while longer, but hopefully on a new course.

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