TV Article

''Six Feet Under,'' episodes 1-4

Six Feet Under | WHERE THERE'S A 'WILL'... The show's second episode finds the Fishers sorting out assets
Image credit: 6 Feet Under: Larry Watson
WHERE THERE'S A 'WILL'... The show's second episode finds the Fishers sorting out assets

01 Pilot
Writer Alan Ball Director Ball Plot Driving to pick up older son Nate (Peter Krause) at the airport, L.A. funeral-home owner Nathaniel Fisher (Richard Jenkins) is killed when a bus slams into his hearse. Meanwhile, Nate enjoys a quickie in an airport janitor's closet with Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), a masseuse he met on the plane. Nathaniel's death rocks his family, which includes unfaithful wife Ruth (Frances Conroy), closeted gay son David (Michael C. Hall), and drugged-out teen daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose). Introduces The Fisher family; Brenda; Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez), a Fisher employee who's gifted at reconstructing disfigured corpses; Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick), David's African-American cop boyfriend; Gabe Dimas (Eric Balfour), Claire's bad-influence future boyfriend; and Billy (Jeremy Sisto), Brenda's bipolar brother. Best Line ''Oh, it's great. My father's dead, my mom's a whore, my brother wants to kill me, and my sister's smoking crack. I think I win.'' (Nate, after Brenda asks how things are going) Historic Moments Nathaniel's ghost chats with his family for the first time, Ruth confesses her longtime affair with a widowed hairdresser, and corporate funeral-home chain Kroehner makes its first play to buy out the Fishers' business. Critique Creator Ball gracefully establishes the series' tricky tonal mix of dysfunctional-family drama and morbid comedy. Interstitial faux commercials for mortician products like Living Splendor embalming fluid disrupt the flow (and will later be dropped), but ''Six'''s top-drawer cast (especially winning ''Sports Night'' veteran Krause and Aussie import Griffiths, unveiling her spot-on American accent) engages viewers immediately. In short, we dig it. A-

02 The Will
Writer Christian Williams Director Miguel Arteta Kickoff Death A pyramid-scheme artist dies in a swimming-pool accident. Plot The family hears Nathaniel's will, in which he leaves the business to both of his sons. Introduces Hiram Gunderson (''St. Elsewhere'''s Ed Begley Jr.), Ruth's paramour; Vanessa Diaz (Justina Machado), Federico's pregnant wife; and Jennifer Mason (Missy Yager), David's ex-fiancée. Best Line ''So did Dad ever say anything to you that might explain why he would do this, like 'By the way, Federico, I've lost my f---in' mind'?'' (Nate) Historic Moment Nate transports his first stiff -- which has an erection. Critique Though the pacing is a little poky because the characters are still being fleshed out, the episode effectively sets up one of ''Six'''s central conflicts: the clash between dutiful son David and reluctant partner Nate. B+

03 The Foot
Writer Bruce Eric Kaplan Director John Patterson Kickoff Death A bakery worker is mangled in a giant mixer; his severed foot later goes missing. Plot Nate persuades David to sell to Kroehner, then experiences an epiphany and decides they should run the business together as Fisher & Sons. Kroehner retaliates by opening a cut-rate crematorium across the street, which soon mysteriously catches fire. Best Line ''Mom, apparently you want a child with an eating disorder.'' (Claire, after Ruth repeatedly asks if she's bulimic) Historic Moment When Gabe brags to friends that Claire sucked his feet (thus earning her the nickname Toe Slut), she leaves the baker's foot in his locker as revenge. Critique The script gets considerable comic mileage out of the toe business, but a subplot about Ruth losing $25,000 at the track goes nowhere. B

04 Familia
Writer Laurence Andries Director Lisa Cholodenko Kickoff Death A Chicano gangbanger (''Kingpin'''s Jacob Vargas) gets murdered by rival thugs. Plot David asks Rico to help deal with the gang leader who's paying for the funeral. The cops question Nate and Brenda about the fire, but it's Claire who becomes a suspect. Best Line ''Not quite as 'Addams Family' as I'd expected.'' (Brenda, upon entering the funeral home) Historic Moments Keith's temper flares for the first time when he assails a homophobe in a parking lot. Ruth invests some of her late husband's insurance money in Fisher & Sons. Critique The episode makes an effective point about prejudice (David doesn't realize that Rico is Puerto Rican, not Mexican) before turning maudlin with a simplistic, let's-all-join-hands resolution. B-

Originally posted Mar 06, 2003
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