Friday, June 04, 2004

Six Feet Under: A Showcase of the Human Self

One of my favourite TV dramas is HBO's Six Feet Under (SFU) - created by Alan Ball, award-winning, and HURRAH! returning with a 4th season in mid-June.

Another TV drama addiction? Perhaps. I guess we all find our own things in life to speak to us and what better than drama serials that throw up fictional characters and dramatic situations to tickle and provoke? But as I remarked to G, "this show is so... human". It's really a showcase of the human self - emotional, psychological, and philosophical - and our uniquely convoluted human relationships. Besides, amid themes centering on life and death - literally so, in focusing on the Fishers, a family that runs a funeral home - SFU's brand of dark humour is particularly refreshing and intriguing (i.e. art-fart appeal).

SFU showcases the myriad of complex human thought and emotions that each character goes through in dealing with life's sundry issues - from coming to terms with the loss of a father to discovering self-identity and the purpose of one's life to dealing with love and sexuality.

Though I'm still going through the 2nd season, every episode always leaves me quiet and brooding. Each episode opens with someone doing what he probably does everyday, not expecting death to come his way in the next few minutes. We, the viewers, are initially titillated and even shocked by incredible (and sometimes amusing) situations that invariably lead to unintended death. But as we become accustomed to death being part and parcel of the family's life, death no longer shocks and shakes us. Not so much because Ball has run out of quaint situations to throw in our faces in season 2, but we really begin to accept it, just as the Fishers do.

Even each death opens a brief window into man's other peculiar facets, portrayed sometimes through a character imagining a dead man speaking poignantly to address his personal struggles. And other times through family or friends who are thrown into sudden disarray and emotional turmoil in coming to terms with the loss of someone. Their reactions range from "why did he have to die", "I regret not knowing him better", "I could have prevented her death but why didn't I" to "good riddance, you son of a bitch", "I always thought you loved me but this..." etc.

G sums up the show as "functionality in dysfunctionality". I couldn't agree more - at first the Fishers appear to be another dysfunctional American family, albeit with the curious business that involves carting cadaver home. But as you follow the series, each character's individual battles with personal demons are revealed. The viewer then begins to understand their psyche, perhaps even empathize with them emotionally, and finally realizes their functionality, whether as an individual or as a collective.

In the last episode I caught (season 2 eps 12), I find the scene of Nate and Brenda's falling out particularly heart-wrenching. Two persons together and due to be married, but emotionally apart and fighting lonely wars with their past that repeatedly haunts them. While I feel sympathy for Brenda's complex and her seemingly incomprehensible sex-maniac ways, Nate's anger and sense of betrayal are expected. Oh yes, somebody say "this is drama", where the viewer, as a third party who sees everything, understands and wishes how the characters can see themselves for who, what and how they are. Of course, we all wish they'd better hurry up, make the right decisions, resolve all conflict and eventually get together. But where's the fun in that? :)

As the follower of any series would ask, who's your favourite character? I say it would be Claire, the redhead teenager who, from my following so far, is now redirecting her angst and bitterness towards everything and everyone in life to discovering her latent creativity and in the process, self-identity and her place in life as she moves on to life beyond high school. Perhaps I, too, empathize with her and desire to discover and unleash the inner artist in me.

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