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Home > Media

TFT Telly: Six Feet Under

7 November 2005

'You can't take a picture of this, it's already gone.'

Channel 4 started to show the HBO drama 'Six Feet Under' in 2000. It trundled along quite happily for three seasons in a regular 10pm slot on a Thursday or Friday, the show garnering gushing praise from critics, who basked in the 1% of American television that kicks the tush of 99% of British television. Then the four year itch kicked in. Channel 4 started to lose interest. They put 'Six Feet' on at 11, 11.30, different days from week to week. They yawningly scheduled repeats of 'Father Ted' before it. They stopped returning its calls, claimed to have a bit of a headache. Fans gave up trying to follow it, audiences dropped, and Channel 4 brightly responded to what its viewers apparently wanted - come
the fifth and final series, it had shunted 'Six Feet' onto its digital mate E4. Stupid Channel 4. They had dumped - allow us a momentary gushette - one of the finest and most transcendent dramas of recent times.

'Six Feet Under' was about a dysfunctional family, the Fishers, who ran a funeral home. Oh, it should have been *awful* - sanctimonious, saccharine, sensationalist. But it succeeded in being hugely intelligent, moving, insightful, naturally funny, sexy and touchingly sincere. It was properly original and progressive, and things you have no real right to expect of a TV series. It opened each episode with the death of a soon to be client of the Fishers, the deaths being shocking and amusing and deliberately dull by turns. It gave us the 'big black sex cop' and the 'compulsive liar dangerslut'. It was witty and scathing ('Well, isn't it comforting to know that being miserable is still better than being an idiot?'), more witty and scathing ('Hi, it's David and Keith, but we can't come to the phone right now because we're too *gay*'), and always kept that in perfect counterpoint with its generous, pure melancholy. ('If you're a child and you lose your parents, then you're an orphan. But what's the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that's just too fucking awful to even have a name.') It was a bit of a poor relation to 'The Sopranos' and 'The West Wing' - y'know, a bit girlie, a bit pastel-shaded - but vastly superior to the calculating, superficially attractive but so ugly on the inside 'Nip/Tuck'. It had the stark dreaminess and emotional wallop of 'American Beauty', which 'Six Feet' creator and writer Alan Ball is best known for; that unique gorgeousness that extends past the visuals into the actual meat-and-spuds of the storylines. It gently forced you to look at the messy nastiness of death, the cruel idiocy of life, and showed you how in a nasty, messy and barely-justifiable way, it's all totally worth it.

Without resorting to spoilers (it's repeated on Sunday at 11pm - suggest taking Monday morning off to recover), we can only say that the finale is not unpredictable, given the subject matter, but it is nonetheless devastating - and utterly enriching. Really, though. You could only compare it to the last episode of 'M*A*S*H', that same prolonged orgy of uplifting tear-duct-siphoning. It wobbles a little in places, as it always did, but its flaws are forgivably human. At least it remains stubbornly secular - there's no sneaking in of any God stuff, although there is some sentimentality - after all, everyone wants to believe there's more to death than just matter rotting in the ground. But the series managed to ballet deftly around an increasingly dense field of trite-mines, and it maintains its dignity to the end. Any production can be accused of manipulating your emotions, but at least in this case it's to a good end - it's for its own sake, so that you can make like a broken fire hydrant and cry yourself a lovely lake. You feel grateful that some people have taken the time and care to create characters that can become real to you, that you can become genuinely fond of, even if you have to lose them in the end - or especially because you lose them in the end. Losing them is rather the point. There's something rejuvenating about that, something heartening.

'Six Feet' went everywhere and did pretty much everything without getting precious or self-congratulatory about it, showed you love and death, the pedestrian and the extraordinary in life, through pretty (but more substantial than that suggests) kaleidoscopic filters. And sometimes, rudely, without any filters at all. Watching it reminds you of what telly is capable of, and makes you sad and cross that it aims this high so little of the time. Imagine the bit with the bag in 'American Beauty', all its tension and oblique sweetness and slight preposterousness and weepy joy, spread out over 63 hour-long episodes. If that sounds sickly or dull to you, well, you're not our friend, chum.

As for the Channel 4 schedulers, we wish them - not a slow and painful death, nor even a memorably sudden one - but merely an eternity in front of the Lizzie Bardsley episode of 'Wife Swap'. With their eyes pinned open, just like in 'A Clockwork Orange'.

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