X-Message-Number: 19314
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 02:02:54 EDT
Subject: Re: [Cryonics Europe] Six feet under

In a message dated 6/19/02 4:37:15 AM Pacific Daylight Time,  

> As Six Feet Under, the surreal series about an American firm of funeral
>  directors, has just started showing in the UK on Channel Four, I searched
>  through http://www.cryonet.org to see if there were any reviews. Apart from
>  references to it in other articles, there was no specific review.

Six Feet Under has received "critical acclaim" here in the US and won Alan 
Ball (American Beauty) and HBO Golden Globe Awards for Best Television 
Series: Drama, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-series 
or Motion Picture made for Television: Rachel Griffiths. However, the 
critical acclaim has been mostly confined to the movie intelligentsia, not 
the common TV and movie reviewers who write for the press. In fact, most 
reviews I've read have criticized the series on almost every ground; 
structure, subject matter, character development, and plot. The initial 
reviews from HBO viewers on the official website were often venomous. You'll 
note it won Golden Globes, not Emmys.

Not surprisingly, I think Six Feet Under is brilliant and astonishing 
television (even by BBC standards which I consider very high). The best 
source of information about the series is to be found on the web. A Google 
search will disclose a range of websites. HBO also has its own website for 
the series which is excellent and for which they are planning major upgrades. 
It can be accessed at:


There is a good deal of material on the characters, the actors, and yes, even 
the writers. HBO has been very attentive to web users and conducts surveys 
and provides excellent support for the show. One feature I enjoy is the 
site's Trivia game which asks questions about the plots and characters of the 
episodes, as well as occasional questions about the history of filmography 
dealing with death and dying. While I have only seen every episode only once, 
I'm both embarrassed and proud that my score is frequently 100% and virtually 
never below 86% (2 wrong out of the 15 question series). FYI, this is the 
first game I've played since I was about 8 years old.

I think this show should do well in the UK where its intelligent dialogue and 
not infrequent references to serious literature in a thoughtful way will not 
be a turn off. It should also do well there because it confronts difficult 
issues head-on without the usual sentiment required to make them palatable, 
or even suitable for social discussion. Alan Ball has grabbed death by the 
balls and is examining it from multiple perspectives. Each show typically 
opens with the last minutes of the life, and ultimately the death, of a 
person who will be the Fisher Family's next client. Sometimes these openings 
are used for the life and death of the person they are caring for to provide 
insight and instruction on how life is lived, good, bad and in between. 
Sometimes the deaths stand alone and there is no deep interaction with the 
ensemble cast.

However, in almost every case there is a real message in the program. To 
those not living in Southern California, and especially to those who have not 
lead the kind of strange life that I have: interacting with the cryonics 
community, the funeral industry, and the unusual people and just plain 
weirdoes that populate Southern California, the show may seem contrived or 
unreal. Perhaps I find each episode so imprintable because I have lived a 
life much like the Fishers and have interacted with people as alien and 
bizarre, if not more so, than the Fisher's have. 

Alan Ball is a gay man and one of the Fisher son's is gay (David). The 
straight son, Nate, reminds of me of many, many Southern Californians I've 
known and his experiences brushing up against unusual women, the drug culture 
and life there in Gomorra are very real. Ball's portrayal of an uptight gay 
man seeking to find his self esteem and to find romantic love are honest and 

The portrayal of the contemporary American funeral scene is mostly dead-on 
accurate. There are a few occasional technical slips, and far too many of the 
Fisher's clients die from accident or homicide. But overall, the details are 
handled superbly. Regulatory violations, and the intense and unfair efforts 
of a national funeral service business to buy up or destroy the Fishers are 
all to real. The national concern is on the series is called Kroehner 
Services International (KSC) which is a thinly veiled, and all to accurate 
image of the real-world Service Corporation International (SCI). For the 
record, I don't like SCI. I don't like their tactics, I don't like the way 
they run their "units" and I especially don't like their refusal to deal with 
cryonics organizations. SCI has been systematically trying to gain nearly 
complete control of the death care industry in the US. Since they are a large 
bureaucratic corporation they are inflexible and destroy the possibility for 
the excellent relationship possible between competent cryonics organizations 
and quality independent  business people who are strongly service oriented 
(i.e., your typical independent funeral director). From what I have heard, 
the KSI tactics depicted on Sex Feet Under (SFU) are all too real. I've met 
SCI people who remind me all too vividly of KSI's Matt Gilardi and Mitzi 
Dalton Gaynor.

>  Anyone care to let us have their thoughts, either for CryoNet or Cryonics
>  Europe and/or Longevity Report?

My thoughts, rambling as they are, are presented above.
>  It has been showing longer in the States - has any reference to cryonics
>  been made later in the series?

No, there has been no reference to cryonics, although I've proposed this to 
the SFU writers. There is a wonderful scene in one of the second season 
episodes where David Fisher is explaining death to his male lover's 9 year 
old niece, Taylor. David says quite unequivocally that he is afraid of death 
and that death is not a good thing. However, don't make the mistake of 
thinking SFU is a poster-board for the immortalist position. Rather, it deals 
with death in many ways from many perspectives. Mostly it tries to show how 
very different people deal with the most important and fearsome question in 
life: death! That, in and of itself, is a breakthrough on television or 
anywhere else. Also, unless you're clueless or psychotic a good hard look at 
suffering, dying, death and postmortem events should awaken you to the 
possibility that it is *not* a good thing.

Add to that the gifts that Alan Ball brings to the series and you have 
something very special. Whatever else he is, Alan Ball is a man who thinks 
outside the box. A man who understands that much of human fear, incompletion, 
longing and sometimes happiness is tied up with the fact that we all suffer 
and die -- and to what purpose? He understands the difference between people 
who are bruised by the reality of life and its difficulties (including the 
death sentence we live under) and he is gifted at exploring the magnificent 
array of strategies people use to deal with these hard realities. The Fishers 
and the ensemble cast who support them are all on different kinds of journeys 
to find some balance, peace and purpose in life. Death is a major hurdle they 
all face, but Ball is too gifted and too insightful about the human condition 
to make the series that unidimensional.

A final word of commentary and advice: you have to watch this show for a 
while and give it a chance. I have just seen the first episode for a second 
time and I was amazed at how much depth it had and how much my perspective 
had changed on the characters. My first watch-through I was too stunned and 
hypnotized by Ball's vision. The second time I found a wealth of detail I was 
simply too stunned to pick up on during my first viewing. And of course, it 
goes without saying that this program isn't for everyone. Probably most 
people on Cryonet will find it un-watchable. That's a pity in that if you 
want to learn a lot about the funeral industry, hoe real people deal with 
death, and details of the funeral industry, including key government 
regulations, it's a great way to get educated. It took me 20 years to learn 
most of the things I've seen presented in two years' worth of episodes.

The series has been renewed for one more year. It is not, regrettably, 
available on DVD or VHS at this time.

Mike Darwin

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