Friday, November 17, 2006


There are some that will make the case that Americans are currently living in their second golden age of television, with the first being, I don’t know, the late 50s/early 60s? After years of sneering at prime-time television, I find that I’m in the same boat as many others in all of a sudden having at least 4 or 5 shows I’m watching either weekly (thank you TiVo) or on DVD. Leading the way, of course, are the HBO shows – many of which (“Deadwood”, “Extras”, “Big Love”, “Rome”) I’ve never even seen, since I don’t pay for HBO. A couple weeks ago my wife and I watched the final episode of the fifth (and final) season of HBO’s “SIX FEET UNDER” – and amazingly, I was able to steer clear of any and all spoilers this entire year, so everything that happened hit me like it hit those of you who watched it the night it aired many months ago.

I resisted admitting this for a couple years, but I’m ready to say that “SIX FEET UNDER” is/was my very favorite of all the HBO shows, including “THE SOPRANOS” (I’m only now working on Season 1 of “THE WIRE”, so verdict’s out on that one but leading indicators are excellent). It is probably the best friggin’ soap opera of all time, and it most certainly was a soap opera. When I watched the first episode of Season 1 long ago, 60-some-odd episodes ago, I was ready to stop the investment in time right then and there. Did you see this one? The one with the fake commercials for funeral products? Awful. But they rebounded so quickly, and enveloped me into the characters’ lives so fast, that by mid-season 1 I was totally hooked. We’d watch 3 hour-long episodes at a time fairly often, but it was more common to watch one at a time, and give each episode time to sink in after much discussion & speculation.

Initially the character that grabbed me the most was Claire, but she quickly became so annoyingly over-the-top & hateful to her whole family that five years later she was my least-favorite character. I don’t think it was the actress’s (Lauren Ambrose) fault; this is the character they wrote for her, and she played her lines really well and with “feeling”. But I don’t believe anyone could be so flippant and condescending ALL the time, with only momentary flashes of humility. So I gravitated to the Nate/Brenda story, and then when the character of Billy was introduced – the incestuous, bipolar, dangerous freak Billy woo hoo! I was stoked that so many of those early episodes included Billy freak-outs, and when he came back from the asylum as a kinder, gentler Billy, he was no less compelling. Great – and 100% believable – character.

At the end I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with everybody. Was Brenda going to die during childbirth? Would David flip out over the guy who kidnapped and almost killed him? Would Claire marry the Republican dude? Hey, I’m not gonna spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it. But “SIX FEET UNDER” was seriously one of the all-time high-water marks of American television, certainly movie-quality, week-in, week-out. And for once, proclamations about truly great American TV are something that are starting to not sound so ridiculous when spoken or typed, which is something that had never happened in my lifetime until right about now.


Anonymous said...

You many need to push thru the first few episodes of "the Wire" but it gets good, and the subsequent seasons get better and better. The 3rd season it seems to really have raised the bar.

Anonymous said...

I've been insulted so many times by so-called "good TV" that I've given up.

Anonymous said...

Name some names, Mr. drake. I'm late to this TV Renaissance (Because I'm pretty much conditioned to stay away from the TV now), but I'd like some more information before I take the plunge on renting DVDs, etc. I do love Curb Your Enthusiasm, but that's pretty much a slam dunk.

Anonymous said...

I feel the opposite of you. I could not have given less of a shit about Claire at the beginning but she quickly became my favorite character (perhaps because she's closest to my age and I can relate to her character the most, blah blah).

Everyone else's storylines were quite interesting at first but by the end of the show's run, for some reason, I cared the most about Claire. Not to say I didn't care completely, but I wasn't nearly as invested in Nate and Brenda (oh yay, they're fighting again) or David and Keith (where were they even going with this one?) or whatnot.

More importantly though, her personality grew the most during the five years than any other character. I can't name any other character on the show that achieves as much personal growth as she does (and if you say Nate, I will kill you).

Anyway, this all seems a bit obsessive. I just bought the box set of all five seasons on Tuesday as I never bought the DVDs before and hey, why not?

Jay H. said...

Anonymous, I’m sorry, but I beg to differ. Only one episode before the finale Claire was a screaming, petulant mess, smoking bongloads of pot & drinking too much and yelling at everyone. Sure, there was good reason for it, but that’s what she was doing on this show from Day #1. David, on the other hand, started the series in the closet, totally ashamed of who he was, rigid & uptight etc. By the end he was a proud Dad, proudly gay & well-integrated with the rest of his family. I’d pick David for personal growth over Claire for sure – and yeah, you’re right, it’s obsessive & strange to even be typing this about a fictional character from TV.