Six Feet Under: The Complete Fifth Series

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. Ends." Including this groundbreaking series about a funeral home and the mixed up Fisher family who live within it. The final series washes the body of the show ready for burial, but there's still life in this character-driven ensemble yet.

Matriarch Ruth (Frances Conroy) is a woman on the edge after her second husband George (James Cromwell) has a psychotic break. When he turns out to have a long history of mental illness, which he has kept secret, it calls her whole life with him into question. Her eldest son Nate (Peter Krause) is asking a lot of questions of his relationship, too. His on-off hook up with Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) is most firmly on for most of the season, with them marrying in this first episode - the excellent A Coat Of White Primer - but you sense that storms are never far away as they grapple with tragedy and struggle to bring up his daughter Maya.

Claire (Lauren Ambrose), somewhat bizarrely, begins the season by moving in with Brenda's brother Billy (Jeremy Sisto), now controlling his volatile mood swings and mental instabilities with drugs. Claire's gay brother David (Michael C Hall) probably has the best of what luck there is this series, with his story arc with partner Keith (Mathew St Patrick), taking them on a voyage towards adoption or surrogacy, in pursuit of a family of their own. Outside of the immediate family, fellow funeral director Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) is still torn between trying to patch up his marriage to Vanessa (Justina Machado) and moving on.

The intensity of these plotlines - and the sub-plots are frequently just as bleak - makes it easy to see why five series was really enough in the claustrophobic lives of one family. So much has happened to them over 63 episodes that plausibility cracks are beginning to show. We all accept that lives have tragedy within them, but Six Feet Under does have a tendency to wallow. The lack of many subsidiary characters, most of whom are thinly written foils, also adds to the feeling of oppression.

It is the superb acting and tightly plotted scripts that carry you through the mire of raw emotions - clutching your box of Kleenex like a floatation aid. Conroy is simply wonderful as Ruth, a character of incredible complexity - one side, the matriarch, holding everything together, the other a woman looking for love and lust, just like her daughter. Krause is also terrific as Nate, a sort of Everyman, torn between what he wants and what he thinks he should do for the best. But it would be wrong to single out one member of the cast for praise. All of them put in performances of such depth and intensity they help you to forget some of the more preposterous elements of the plot and more unpleasant aspects of their characters. Occasionally, the episodes get bogged down - The Silence, for example - but when the writers let a little light into the dusty corners, as in A Coat Of White Primer and Singing For Our Lives, the result is a televisual triumph.

Using quirks, similar to those of Ally McBeal - fantasy segments and, in this case, seeing dead people - Six Feet Under has gone on to influence other programmes, both in terms of dramatic technique and what is acceptable to show now.

What began by breaking new ground remains defiant to the last, even if the grief is, on occasion, a little too deep.

Reviewed on: 11 Apr 2006
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Six Feet Under: The Complete Fifth Series packshot
Last look at the body of a hugely successful TV series before burial.
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Director: various

Writer: various

Starring: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St Patrick, Justina Machad, James Cromwell, Rachel Griffiths

Year: 2005

Runtime: 677 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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