Six Feet Under-The Complete First Season (2001)

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Released 11-Feb-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Alan Ball (Writer/Director) Episodes 1 And 13
Deleted Scenes-From Episdoe 1, With optional commentary
Featurette-Under The Main Titles
Biographies-Cast & Crew
DVD-ROM Extras
Synopsis-Episodes
Booklet
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Awards
Audio-Only Track-Six Feet Under Title Theme, Kid Loco's Gravebeat Mix
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 722:15 (Case: 693)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (4)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Miguel Arteta
Daniel Attias
Alan Ball
Kathy Bates
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Peter Krause
Michael C. Hall
Frances Conroy
Lauren Ambrose
Rachel Griffiths
Freddy Rodríguez
Mathew St. Patrick
Jeremy Sisto
Richard Jenkins
Lili Taylor
Joanna Cassidy
Robert Foxworth
Justina Machado
Case DV-4
RPI $99.95 Music Steven Cahill
Richard Marvin
Thomas Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Well, sort of, in the first episode *wink*
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Oh joy of joys - the entire series in one box!! On Friday night, my husband and I set out to start watching the superb Six Feet Under. Six hours later, we'd got through the first two discs. Saturday morning, and we were up bright and early to start our odyssey again. As friends came to visit, they too were cast under its spell, and by the end of the evening, we had an entire room filled with people, all transfixed on the goings-on at the Fishers.

     Alan Ball, writer of such distinguished pieces as American Beauty, wrote this after having lost a sister himself. And that sense of authenticity is one of the hallmarks of this fantastic programme. Perhaps because it was a cathartic meditation of his own loss, there is a "realness" to the characters and situations which makes this utterly satisfying. While it is undoubtedly funny, sarcastic, quirky and theatrical at times, there is also much pathos, and genuinely moving and thoughtful pieces abound to touch the emotions quite profoundly. I don't want to describe the style as "reality" because "reality" is just about the facts. As humans we do not live in "reality", so much as we live in our own "real" worlds - our internal responses to the objective facts of life are much more creative and subjective than mere reactions. We interpret our external world through our internal one, and that's what Ball has touched on so deftly in this series. Perhaps also for this reason, the liberal use of taboo words (even the ultimate baddy), the full frontal male nudity, the references to scatology and the myriad other boundaries that it pushes out never really seem that shocking. They are literally part of life, which is ironic when we remember this show is about what happens to people who are surrounded by death.

     I think that's a key point of our fascination with this show. At the risk of getting too philosophical here, it strikes me that this series works so well because it lifts a corner on a universal curiosity. What happens when we die? There was a time when birth, life and death were all the province of the family hearth. Babies were born (and sometimes died) at home. Families lived together in multigenerational bundles with youth and old age nestled up together. We saw Nanna or Grandad slowly lose their marbles, and cared for them in their rooms until one day, they quietly died. And then, mothers would lay them out, ready for their last goodbye in the front room. We were connected to the whole life cycle. Now, the mysteries of birth and death have become medical specialities. We have lost access to the entries and exits of the world, sometimes to the detriment of the way we live the space in between. That's the way that this programme becomes so amazingly absorbing. By boldly stepping into the taboos, it goes some way to reconnecting ourselves to those mysterious estates. Here ends my philosophical musings. Thank you for your time.

     With Alan Ball at the helm, quality writing was never in dispute. Now to build a television program out of it. First - find some music to express the mysterious themes we're about to explore. Success! From that opening discord and hesitant plucking of strings, we know we're in for something special. Now, let's create the opening visuals to hint at what's to come. Has there ever been a more elegant image than the two hands, firmly clasped, being thrust apart? Yep - that's said it all for me. Okay, great - we've got the audience set up for something really interesting. Now it's just a small matter of finding a few people to actually give life to the written characters. This is the ensemble cast from heaven itself. Frances Conroy as the controlling mother Ruth is an absolute lynch pin. She is both matriarchal and unbelievably vulnerable as she learns to reinvent herself as a widow and a mother of grown children who no longer need her. Michael C. Hall as David Fisher, the bitter, repressed son who has self-sacrificed to become the dependable brother, is utterly convincing. All his resentments, insecurities and self-censuring are emotionally evident all the time. In contrast, Peter Krause as Nate Fisher represents the one that got away, but his crafty father, Nate Fisher Sr (Richard Jenkins) has a cunning plan to return him to the fold. He now has to reconcile his past gains with life back firmly within the bosom of the family. The baby of the family, Claire (Lauren Ambrose) has plenty of problems of her own. The performance Ambrose gives is never short of totally amazing. Her face can switch from vulnerable distrust to snide cunning to vulnerable helplessness in a nanosecond. Add to the mix magnificent performances by our own Rachel Griffiths (Brenda), Jeremy Sisto (her brother, Billy), Mathew St. Patrick (Officer Keith Charles), and Freddy Rodríguez (Federico Diaz) and you have a rock solid foundation of actors who can springboard these characters into complete and utterly convincing life.

     An interesting characteristic of this series is that each episode is directed and written by different people. These range from Miguel Arteta (who directed The Good Girl, with Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaall and John C. Reilly); Rodrigo García (Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her); the inimitable Kathy Bates; and many other top notch directors and writers. The first and last episode were helmed by Ball himself, which is no doubt a fit and proper choice. In watching the series together in a lump as I did, I wondered at what the choice of this variety brought to the series overall. Certainly, there is no real variance in presentation - the characters see to that. What it may have provided was a certain freshness and energy to the performers themselves. They had to really know their characters to retain their reality under various helmsmen - this may well have intensified the energy on set.

     And so we arrive at plot synopsis time. Is it plagiarism if I reveal my sources? The reason I ask is that in the booklet provided with this excellent package, there is a brief synopsis of each episode, and I truly do not think there's anything I could do to improve on it. So, I shall quote directly from the booklet, with only the addition of the runtime as all my own work.

     DISC ONE - EPISODES 1 - 3:

     Episode One - Pilot - Written and Directed by Alan Ball (62:48)
     On Christmas Eve, Nathaniel Fisher, owner of the Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, is killed when a bus hits his new hearse. The tragedy casts a pall on the homecoming of prodigal son Nate who has just met Brenda, a woman who might change his life. Instead of a restful vacation, Nate now has to deal with the fragile egos of his grieving mother Ruth and his resentful brother David, as well as his younger sister Claire, who, having smoked crystal meth just before she heard the news, is in no state of mind to handle it.
     Episode Two - The Will - Written by Christian Williams, Directed by Miguel Arteta (51:57)
     Nate, who has no interest in the family business, now owns half of it, much to the chagrin of his brother David, who has devoted his life to it. Claire finds herself financially cornered by her father's last wishes. Kroehner Service Corp., a national funeral concern, is applying pressure on the family to sell or be put out of business. The Fisher family finds itself short-changed by the expensive funeral of a swindler, and may have to break the law to balance the books. Nate is surprised to find his name tattooed on Brenda's backside.
     Episode Three - The Foot - Written by Bruce Eric Kaplan, Directed by John Patterson (52:47)
     Nate is close to persuading the family to sell the business to Kroehner Service Corp. Claire finds her private life the subject of school gossip and seeks revenge on her former boyfriend for his big mouth. The arrival of a baker's body in pieces calls for some special reconstructive work, but a missing part could prove a problem. Ruth, to alleviate the stress of mourning, tries to get her life on track at the track, with costly results.

     DISC TWO - EPISODES 4 - 7:

     Episode Four - Familia - Written by Laurence Andries, Directed by Lisa Cholodenko (51:23)
     The murder of Paco, a Mexican gang member, finds the Fishers - and their employee Rico - walking a fine line between the deceased's family and the gang leader, Powerful. The police are investigating a mysterious fire at a Kroehner-owned property across the street, and all fingers point to Claire. Nate's mother walks in at a sensitive moment when Nate's girlfriend Brenda comes to dinner. David, inspired by the late Paco, stands up for his rights.
     Episode Five - An Open Book - Written by Alan Ball, Directed by Kathy Bates (54:06)
     The sudden death of a porn star brings new business to the Fisher Family, and all sorts of challenges, including the rebalancing of an off-kilter breast enhancement. In an effort to reach out to her daughter, Ruth invites Claire to meet their cousins and experience a different kind of mother/daughter relationship. Nate gets to meet the rest of Brenda's intense family at a dinner with her psychiatrist parents and has a near-nude run-in with her brother Billy. David is invited to become deacon at the family church, but this creates new tensions with Keith.
     Episode Six - The Room - Written by Christian Taylor, Directed by Rodrigo García (57:03)
     David dives into his new role as church deacon and devotes himself to feeding the poor, while fending off the advances of a voracious divorcee. Ruth finds herself the centre of attention for both her ex-lover, Hiram, and an ardent Russian florist, Nikolai. Nate discovers his fathers' secret life hidden deep in the accounting books. Claire meets Brenda's brother Billy, and discovers she has a lot to learn about men.
     Episode Seven - Brotherhood - Written by Christian Williams, Directed by Jim McBride (50:49)
     When a soldier dies of Gulf War Syndrome, his brother rejects an army funeral, but Nate finds himself on the side of the army. Ruth invites her lover to dinner with the family and also decides to kick-start her life by taking a job with the Russian florist. David finds himself caught up in church politics when his vote is called for in the case of a progressive young associate priest. Nate and Brenda plan their first weekend away, but her devoted brother Billy has other ideas.

DISC THREE - EPISODES 8 - 10:

     Episode Eight - Crossroads - Written by Laurence Andries, Directed by Allen Coulter (56:15)
     It's a dry season in the funeral business for the Fisher family, and Rico takes the opportunity to test his skills and his income by freelancing with Kroehner. Business is so slow that Nate and David rent out their slumber room to a seniors' dance class, which has an unexpected bonus for David. Claire finds herself lost without a compass, metaphorically and literally. Ruth finds herself torn between the comfort that Hiram offers her and the spirit of adventure she finds in Nikolai.
     Episode Nine - Life's Too Short - Written by Christian Taylor, Directed by Jeremy Podeswa (55:02)
     When Gabriel's 6 year-old brother dies of a self-inflicted shotgun wound, Claire finds herself softening towards her ex-boyfriend. David hits the dance clubs with his new lover and discovers the joys of ecstasy - as does his mother, Ruth. Brenda comes up with a scheme to improve Nate's management abilities by taking a whirlwind tour of some rival funeral homes.
Reviewer's Note: There is a nasty glitch in the edit at 28:00, but it's the only baddy I saw in the whole series.
     Episode Ten - The New Person - Written by Bruce Eric Kaplan, Directed by Kathy Bates (58:51)
     The Fishers need to replace Rico and they hire the outstanding, but unfortunately outspoken, Amanda. Brenda and Nate's relationship faces a mounting crisis when her brother Billy exhibits an outrageous portrait of the unsuspecting Nate. Off his "meds" one time too many, Billy may need more restrictive care. David orchestrates a meeting with his ex-boyfriend Keith, and comes on surprisingly strong. Claire finds herself enmeshed in a deep relationship with Gabe, but it may be shallower than she thinks.

DISC FOUR - EPISODES 11 - 13:

     Episode Eleven - The Trip - Written by Rick Cleveland, Directed by Michael Engler (54:56)
     David takes a break from a series of casual sex relationships - but not for long - to attend a funeral directors' conference in Las Vegas where he will speak on the role of the independents, a challenge, as he expects to face the suits from Kroehner. Joined by Nate and Brenda, who is trying to avoid her increasingly psychotic brother Billy, the trip promises to be exciting, fun-filled and an "arresting" experience for one of them. Rico has rejoined the firm and faces a tough emotional challenge with his first client. Ruth digs deep to make her flower-arranging less funereal. Claire finds out why Gabe has disappeared.
Reviewer's Note: It is interesting to see that there are still some serious taboos. (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Whilst everything else appears to be fair game in this series, even they could not bring themselves to show a dead baby.
     Episode Twelve - A Private Life - Written by Kate Robin, Directed by Rodrigo García (56:53)
     The homophobic killing of a young man forces David to re-examine his lifestyle and his family relationships. Brenda is trying her best to break from her brother Billy, who is getting more and more out of control. She can't commit to committing him, but she may have to before long. Nate has a hard time just being there for her, and finds himself locked out of her life as well. Claire is finding new ways of comforting Gabe.
Reviewer's Note: The sound is bad in Chapter 2, but it does settle.
     Episode Thirteen - Knock, Knock - Written and Directed by Alan Ball (59:19)
     When her Aunt Lilian dies, Tracy, David's biggest fan, turns to the Fisher family for the arrangements. They soon discover that as a party planner, Tracy is far from the life of the party. Brenda's relationship with Billy takes a turn for the worse shortly before she does, putting both her life and Nate's in jeopardy. David is forced to take a stand at church over his sexuality. Claire doesn't realise how far out of control Gabe is getting. Ruth comes to a fork on her road to romance and must choose between Hiram and Nikolai. Rico brings new life into the old home of Fisher and Sons.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     This is an absolutely exceptional transfer that really sets a standard for how it should be done.

     The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 which appears to be its original format.

     The transfer is extremely clear and extremely sharp with incredible depth and wonderful luminance. There is absolutely no low level noise and details in the shadow areas are absolutely superlative. There is a wonderful sense of depth and dimension to the transfer - something we're not always provided with in television presentations. This literally pops out of the screen.

     The colours are rich, lush and glorious. Skin tones are absolutely spot on, and the palette is extremely broad. Every colour holds exceptionally well from very subtle shading through to the strongest of primaries. Whether indoors or outdoors, everything was just perfect on this score.

     With the exception of the mildest of aliasing, there were very few artefact problems at all. There were no compression problems whatsoever and the transfer was crisp, clean and sharp as a pin. Very, very occasionally, there was the tiniest hint of motion blur and a slight NTSC jitter on some longer pans, but there was truly nothing in this presentation that was sufficiently problematic to be distracting. There was one clumsy edit in Episode 9 (as mentioned above) but that was so quickly over that it was not an issue, and probably was only noteworthy because there were so very few glitches overall.

     The subtitles were accurate, clean and easy to read. They rarely pre-empted or lagged too far the dialogue to be annoying.

     These discs are dual layered but there are no mid-programme layer changes to distract one's eye or attention.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     This is a presentation in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio commentary track on Discs 1 and 4 (Episodes 1 & 13). The sound was always crisp and clean with the minor exception of a brief moment in Chapter 2 of Episode 12 where it muffles and distorts for a short time. This is rectified quickly and never recurs.

     Dialogue was always crisp, bright and punchy with absolutely no difficulties evident. Audio sync was also very accurate throughout the entire presentation, which is a mercy, as sync problems are one of my greatest annoyances.

     The musical score in Six Feet Under is an unequivocal masterwork. From Thomas Newman's magnificent opening set, every piece of music meticulously underpins the drama. The blend of original music and judiciously chosen existent pieces is absolutely perfect. The music never overrides, but it guides, encircles and reflects the action and the emotion of the drama.

     I found fairly minimal action in my surround speakers for this presentation, although the box assures me it is a 5.1 soundtrack. Nonetheless, the sound is excellent. It is clean, clear, well defined, and generally without distortion or interference. Subwoofer activity does occasionally occur, particularly in the clubbing scenes in Episode 9.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     There's a real feast of extras on offer - and meaningful, real extras at that!

Menu

     The menus are all clean, clear and easy to use. From a main menu with clips from the series and haunting theme music, one selects episodes, language or special features. The selection of the episode option takes one to a menu with a looped montaged video clip of features from each episode available on that disc and a list of available stories. When one chooses the episode of one's choice, a new menu appears with a synopsis of the chosen feature, plus options to play the previous or preceding show. This is a fantastic way to organise the menus to ensure you get to play exactly the show you wanted.

Booklet

     This is a slick little number with all the synopses that I shamelessly lifted previously, plus some great pictures from the show. Genuinely informative and complementary to the series. 6 useful pages.

DISC ONE:

Commentary Track by Series Creator, Writer/Director, Alan Ball on Episode 1.

     Ball's laconic but very candid style is a real bonus in this informative commentary. His insights and appreciation of how the performers have realised his vision are really interesting and endearing.

Deleted Scene from Episode 1, with Optional Commentary

     You have the option of simply viewing the scene of Claire & Nate driving to the supermarket, or you can select to play it with commentary. Ball apparently had more to say about the scene than the time allowed, so there is a Commentary 2 to give him the chance to finish his thoughts.

"Under the Main Titles" - Featurette (15:48)

     An absolutely fantastic little featurette which gives much insight into the development of the pilot, its opening credits and conceptions.

Cast & Filmmakers

     Multipage format giving filmographies of:

Peter Krause (Nate)

Michael C Hall (David)

Rachel Griffiths (Brenda)

Frances Conroy (Ruth)

Lauren Ambrose (Claire)

Freddy Rodriguez (Rico)

Mathew St. Patrick (Keith)

Richard Jenkins (Nate Sr.)

Jeremy Sisto (Billy)

Joanna Cassidy (Margaret)

Robert Foxworth (Bernard)

Eric Balfour (Gabe)

Alan Ball (Creator, Writer, Director, Exec. Producer)

Alan Poul (Executive Producer)

Series Index

     A listing of each episode with a brief synopsis.

DVD-Rom / Weblink

     Despite following the instructions (or at least, I think I did) I couldn't make this work.

DISC TWO:

Cast & Filmmakers

     As per Disc One.

Series Index

     As per Disc One.

DVD-Rom / Weblink

     Well, I can visit the HBO website, and then go to the Six Feet Under page there, which has some articles, some "sneak peeks", a bulletin board, a trivia game and, of course, lots and LOTS of merchandising, so perhaps that's what they meant.

DISC THREE:

Cast & Filmmakers

     As per Disc One.

Series Index

     As per Disc One.

DVD-Rom / Weblink

     As per previous comments.

DISC FOUR:

"Behind The Scenes" - Featurette (21:40)

     Cast and crew give their insights on creating the series. The actors speak with tremendous warmth and intelligence about their involvement with the project - and it is genuinely interesting hearing their views.

Commentary Track by Alan Ball on Episode 13

     More insights from the man himself. A technical point here is that each time there was a commentary track available, it did not play on first selection. I found that each time I had to go back to the root menu and reselect "commentary on" to get Ball's audio. I do not know if that's a particular foible of my system, or a technical fault. I shall be interested to find out if others have similar problems.

Cast & Filmmakers

     As per Disc One.

Awards & Nominations

     Seventeen pages of achievements from a diverse array of awards ceremonies. Apart from the fact that it makes you realise our obsession with awards ceremonies, it's an impressive list.

2 Music Tracks Including Six Feet Under Title Theme, Kid Loco's Gravebeat Mix

     Quick plug for the soundtrack CD first, then the fantastic opening theme (1:38). As if that wasn't enough, let's have a remix version (4:36), complete with creepy sound effects. Starts to wear a bit thin, but okay for a one listen item.

Series Index

     As per Disc One.

DVD-Rom / Weblink

     As per previous comments.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     It appears the two versions are identical, which is a refreshing change!

Summary

     I know I'm largely preaching to the converted here, but this is one of the most remarkable, bewitching and absorbing pieces of television that has ever been made. The superb production is fortunately accompanied by an equally worthy DVD treatment, making this a satisfying revisit to its not-at-all humble beginnings. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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Comments (Add)
r4 casing - REPLY POSTED
great show - Johnny Wadd (i am bionic)
R1 Case is better. :) - P`Wolverine
Runtime differences R1 vs R4 -
Re: The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 which appears to be its original format. - Guylian
Thank you for the detail -