Left Coast / Right Coast: "Six Feet Under"

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Frank Hammer.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Frank Hammer.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

For those of you (myself included) who never watched a cable TV show called "Six Feet Under," today I’m going to cover this groundbreaking show for you.

I’ll leave it to you to click on the URL above to catch up on what the show is about.

Our oldest son, who is a screenwriter in Los Angeles has told my wife and I that, in his opinion, it is the best TV show ever. That’s very strong acclimation especially for someone who writes scripts for a living.

The show, as you can read above, is about a family who run a neighborhood funeral parlor. Each episode starts out with a person dying, some due to natural causes, most due to accidents or disease.

The thing is, the show is actually about the grieving process and that we’re all facing our own mortality. Now I will not be maudlin in writing this column. Instead, I’d like to write about the celebration of life, which the show actually does.

See the main family characters running the parlor, a mother, two brothers and a sister in each episode face one or another real life situation.

Then the show will relate that situation to the deaths that the home is treating. The writing (as our son says) is really top of the hill in quality, poignancy and relevance.

Here is just one example. In episode one (the pilot) the father, who runs the business with the help of his wife, a technician, and one of his sons, is constantly being harangued by his wife to quit smoking.

He’s driving the business’s hearse and is on his cell phone with the wife and she can tell he’s smoking while talking to her. She insists he get rid of it, which he does. Then as soon as he can, he looks down on the passenger seat and picks up his pack, puts one in his mouth and just as he’s about to light it up, he gets broadsided by a bus. He is killed instantly (broken neck).

The show actually “starts” at this point, as the son who is already working in the business, his brother (who bailed out of the family business and moves to Seattle (!) to run a food cooperative) comes back home to join the firm. The father’s will leaves the business 50/50 to each son. The daughter is still young, in high school, so she only helps out a little.

One of the gimmicks in the show is that each episode’s “victim” is depicted coming to life and talking with the sons. That includes the father who stands behind each of them, smoking (of course) and criticizes how they are preparing him for his own funeral. It is actually very funny considering the subject matter.

What I really like about the show is how they merge the death of that week’s victim with the foibles of real life. They don’t actually say anything to tie the living to the dead, but it is very clearly implied by the decisions the business owners make every day.

The son who has been in the business all along, is the most “morbid” person you could ever believe. Exactly what you’d expect in a mortician. He has that perfect “bedside manner” in which he comes across as solemn as can be, never smiling, never cracking a joke (at the expense of the victim or anyone else).

This stiffness has, in fact, affected his entire life. He is so stiff (pardon the pun) that you can’t believe anyone this young is actually really like this.

But this son has a “real life” quiet side. He is gay, has a boyfriend but still never lets his hair down. And God forbid that his mother, brother or sister should find out that he actually has a “real” side.

In the first few episodes, they find out about his “real” side and readily accept it. In fact, there is relief that the “stiff” brother is not always such a stiff.

The end of each episode is usually where the family members do an outstanding job in the funeral service and burial.

What is really great about the show is how well they tie all these issues together at the end of the episode. I take away from the show that life is short, and you should make the most of each day. Or else, as the expression goes, “live each day as if it’s your last – because one day it will be.”


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