Must-Watch: HBO's Six Feet Under
As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I try to regularly immerse myself in not only breath and posture practices but also studying the philosophical aspects of this rich, multi-layered spiritual path. Interestingly, many of these ideas are also explored in another of my favorite pastimes: watching TV shows. It may not be a connection we often make, but there are some TV series out there that plumb the depths of what it means to be human and our endless quest for betterment and enlightenment, or to simply figure out: what is the meaning of life?
At the top of my list of must-see philosophical TV shows is HBO's Six Feet Under which is available on Crave for streaming. It was created by the talented Alan Ball (American Beauty, True Blood) and aired from 2001-2005. I watched the series when it initially aired and knew from the very first episode that it was something special. It is quite possibly the show that's had the most profound impact on me in taking in the depth and breadth of life and death. As the title suggests, the show is about death. The main characters are members of the Fisher family, who run a funeral home in Los Angeles. I don't want to give away too much about the show, but yes, a lot of people die, in sad, tragic, weird and even humorous ways.
Interestingly, this series is just as much about life as it is about death, and how complex, endearing and enraging people can be, especially those closest to us. What the creators, writers and performers of this series manage to do is have multiple layers of meaning happening simultaneously so you think you're watching one type of interaction and then an unexpected moment of utter profundity hits you out of the seemingly mundane.
If you start watching this series, which I highly recommend, you may also recognize some familiar faces. Peter Krause (Parenthood, 9-1-1) plays Nate Fisher, the eldest of three children; Michael C. Hall (of Dexter fame) plays the middle sibling, David Fisher and Lauren Ambrose (The Servant, Yellowjackets) plays the youngest sibling, Claire Fisher. Frances Conroy (American Horror Story) plays Ruth Fisher, the unforgettable matriarch of this dour clan and the inimitable Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water and many other films) plays Nate Fisher Sr, the patriarch. Rachel Griffiths (Brothers & Sisters, Hilary & Jackie) portrays Brenda Chenowith, another lead character whose emotional complexity is breathtaking and Jeremy Sisto plays her equally complicated brother, Billy. Freddy Rodriguez who plays Rico, a gifted restoration artist, Justina Machado, Rico's wife, and Mathew St. Patrick, David's partner, round out this captivating group of main characters.
Some notable guest appearances: Rainn Wilson (of The Office fame); Kathy Bates; Patricia Clarkson; James Cromwell; Catherine O'Hara; Lili Taylor; Julie White; Sandra Oh; Bobby Cannavale; Jenna Fischer (also of The Office fame); Chris Messina; Adam Scott and Justin Theroux. Joanna Cassidy does an incredible turn as Brenda's mother, Margaret Chenowith and Peter Macdissi as professor Olivier Castro-Staal is stunning. I wish I could list every guest appearance because, frankly, they're all great.
The show is laced with dark humor, social and political commentary, outright funny bits and deep dives into realms of the unknown. I've watched the entire series about 5 or 6 times and will probably watch it again, and again, and again. Each time I do, I decipher some new meaning or finally "get" a line I've heard numerous times. And, without giving anything away, the end of the series always gets me. I've sobbed profusely a couple times, wept quietly at other times. Not just because some of it is sad, but because it's so profound, and reminds me of my own mortality, and possible immortality. It's that kind of show. The entire series dances on the thin line between life and death, and what it means to be alive, to be human and to be flawed.
No character is portrayed as simply good or bad, whether living or dead. They are all multi-layered individuals, at times walking contradictions. A good person can do heinous things and a malicious person can do good deeds. Good and evil are innate in all of us, and if we want to truly understand each other and get along, we need to accept this as a basic truth and a condition of our human existence.
One of my favorite lines from the show is this gem, uttered by patriarch, Nate Fisher: "Life is wasted on the living." You'll understand when you watch the series.