Why ‘Six Feet Under’ is the Most Underrated Show That I Knew was Underrated When It Was My Show
HBO’s Six Feet Show premiered in the summer of 2001. I was in my late twenties and weary with frustration that my youth was leaving me faster than I could internalize and yet when I looked in the mirror — I seemed younger than I wanted to admit.
It was the year that I lost my grandmother and when I was informed of her demise I was alone in an apartment that I shared with a roommate who hated me for being thin and pretty. I was lonely and desperate for a way out and that bloody phone call that stopped everything didn’t help. I had seen her three years prior and there was no indication that I would never see her again.
But, life plays the card without your input and all you can do is hold the ones you love closer and do what you have to do. So, I moved to Jersey City and shared an apartment with my younger brother who was also struggling with his own issues of rearing the need to feel relevant in a plague that made him feel anything but that.
We were both infected and I became domesticated as I cooked, cleaned and took the train into the City that had rejected me once before but for whatever reason I was too much of a masochist and refused to transcribe the bad news to my benefit.
Aaliyah also died in the summer of 2001. I was passed out on the living room sofa when my brother woke me up in a panic to deliver the news. He has spent that summer convincing me that he loved her and I was sold! She was gorgeous, talented and her music was dope. I also fell in love with how she effortlessly made being on top of the world look so natural and easy. No way was she dead! I got myself together for his sake and assured him that the internet was malfunctioning. We tuned into MTV and the music videos of other artists littered the screen. We calmed down. Surely, if she had died in a plane crash, the authority on what makes music groove-worthy would be streaming her hits.
That was 2001. Things moved a little slower back then and we didn’t mind because emotions need time to grimace in private before public appeal and display takes over.
Aaliyah did die in a plane crash after shooting a music video in the Bahamas. She was only twenty-two and her life and career were just beginning to blossom. A few weeks later terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into notable buildings in key areas of the country. New York was hit with the loss of the World Trade Center and so many lives were filtered into the wind of change that had been a long time coming. Images of the dead and lost greeted me every morning as I tried to avoid the chaos of destroyed family members and friends begging commuters to pay attention to why life lied to all of us — when we thought exact moments of bliss were comfortingly tangible.
I didn’t die from the ruins of a burning building or an exploded airliner — but I was disintegrating internally as I examined my life to the soundtrack of Enigma and realized that something had to change.
Six Feet Under returned the following spring and I was elated. The characters were even more immersed in the language of death and why we allow the reality of what will destroy us to pick at us one decimal at a time.
The show created by Alan Ball centered around The Fishers — Ruth, the demure matriarch, Nate, the prodigal older son, David, the sacrificial younger son and Claire, the rebellious youngest and only daughter. Nathaniel Fisher, the ironic patriarch ran the funeral home, Fisher & Sons, before his demise in a fatal car accident.
Nate comes home for Christmas in Season 1 and expects to be picked up from the airport by his father after randomly fucking a deliciously complex woman in a storage unit at the airport after their plane lands in LAX.
He is instead transported into a brutal reality that clogs the reunion with a family that he ran away from for a peachy and hippyish existence in Seattle that affords him the permission to renounce his birthright in favor of a lifestyle that makes him feel very much alive.
But, once his father is killed unexpectedly, all bets are off. There is a funeral. There is the need to be re-established into a family that is uncomfortably fragile and longing. There is the responsibility to not evacuate back to familiar territory when the ones you love need you more than the trucks that deliver the organic supply that your co-op depends on.
Sacrifice becomes the christened rationale and anyone with a soul would jump at the chance of feeling that level of validation.
Nate gave in and assumed the role his father vacated and thus sealed his fate.
I saw myself in Nate from the very start. As the oldest child, I too didn’t want to be burdened with those responsibilities. I spent my twenties running away from shit. Shit that I created, shit that came up without my consent and shit that I was afraid would come up. In my mind, I was this artist who needed to be free at all times — and I wasn’t going to be the Nigerian version of a prized possession who makes her parents look good anytime they attend functions that warrant my exact disposition.
New York was a motherfucker and I was ready to get the fuck out and seek better tidings elsewhere and Los Angeles was spelling my name with no errors.
As I plotted my dispatch to freedom, I was keeping tabs on a show that was by far the best thing on TV. The fact that none of the actors won Emmys is proof that the system is truly a political shit-fest.
The storylines were stellar and the fact that every episode began with a death was magnificent. The Fisher family had their hands full and we got to see what it really means to live and die without any personal input. The idea that their clients were forced to suddenly figure out the logistics of their loved one’s burial and that the Fisher boys and employee were tasked with making that transition as smooth and flawless as possible was fascinating to watch.
In the midst of the afterlife’s blaring signal was life as we know it — without a diluted solution that saves us from the unbearable and inconceivable. Romances rose and dipped, the sagginess of betrayal and the vulnerability of inter-connected personalities never shied away from the process of embalmment — and that gorgeous avocado-green hearse that Claire drove around during her high school years.
I knew that Six feet Under was my show.
Anything that perfect can only belong to a select few. I found a chat room on HBO.com way before TV writers were given the power to tell you what you think and feel after premieres and finales and the muddle in-between. I was happy to be aligned with like-minded folks but ultimately my adherence was stemmed from the brilliance of the creator and his flock of astute followers.
Six Feet Under followed me to L.A. in the fall of 2004 and our love affair continued for another year. It ended with the death of Nate Fisher— the prodigal son who was just as tormented as he was when the season began, but had matured enough to accept the fact that life isn’t a black and white canvas that God institutes for fragile minds that want to pray away their destiny.
Alan Ball had set him up brilliantly and the viewers were also along for the pilgrimage.
Maybe there is a God and if there is that’s fantastic but you also have to be open to the possibility that there is no heaven or hell. You have to be prepared to tolerate the notion that perhaps death is just a “dreamless sleep” that you won’t ever overcome. You have to understand that as the days go by — you are required to clock in your time and it has nothing to do with the ID card that bears your almost faded image— the proof of your legal imprisonment. You have to be willing to accommodate defeat after you gave it your all and not be wilted by its stagnancy but elated at the fact that you tried your very best without allowing the drawbacks to keep you guessing for all eternity.
Life is a gamble.
I left Los Angeles prematurely and headed back to New York in the winter of 2005. My beloved show had ended and I was filled with grace and hope. We live to die but this time I needed to live for as long as possible.
Many years later — I decided to watch Six Feet Under again as an older, wiser and assumingely less susceptible viewer. I was overcome with emotion and dangerously on the cusp of a complete breakdown. The younger, more vibrant and more capable woman appeared to question my current situation and she had very good reason to be accusatory.
Nothing much has changed in my life. I am still adrift and mentally displaced. I still wonder why I am a writer and how that translates in the meaning of my life and the existence of those who want to depend on me but can’t. I still haven’t found the love of my life and the children I wanted are fading away. I don’t have my gorgeous black hair because the hard years forced the gray to kill it.
I still have no idea who I am or who I want to be.
What has remained intact is my love for a show that reached me at a time when I needed it the most. It was a pioneer in the power of television at a time when it became clear that you could you snuggle with blankets and pillows and be transformed into a world that boasted the elements of what it means to be human — without the aid of gadgets or platforms that trick you into believing that your brain isn’t ravaged with worthless scribblings.
I lived for Six Feet Under and I will die with the conviction that it was the most underrated show ever and for that I am grateful.
I most likely won’t ever realize my dreams but at least for five seasons — I watched characters that I cared about assure me that our “Parallel Play” always comes “Full Circle.”
And I like that.