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Six Feet Under - The Complete First Series (15)



Review: Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentaries on episodes 1 and 13; Episodic previews and recaps; Deleted scene from pilot with audio commentary; Digital Kitchen: Making The Opening Sequence piece; Behind the scenes featurette; Music tracks (main theme and never before released Kid Loco Remix).

AMERICAN television just seems to be getting stronger at the moment.

Following on from the ground-breaking likes of ER and NYPD Blue, not to mention the equally compulsive 24, Six Feet Under marked HBO's latest barn-stormer, a controversial potboiler in The Sopranos mould, which takes a darkly comic look at life and death from the perspective of a dysfunctional family that runs an independent funeral home in California.

Written by Alan Ball, the brains behind the equally challenging Oscar-winner, American Beauty, Six Feet Under is one of those programmes that shocks in its audacity, yet remains a tremendously life-affirming, even uplifting family drama that really makes you think.

Things begin as they mean to go on. For within 20 minutes of the pilot, the father of the family (Richard Jenkins) is killed in a motor accident, leaving his family to inherit the news, including his freshly-stoned daughter, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), and his two sons, the uptight and secretly homosexual David (Michael C Hall) and the family blacksheep, Nate (Peter Krause), who has just met the mysterious Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) on a plane and shagged her at the airport.

Completing the line-up is Frances Conroy stern matriarch, who feels guilt over an affair she is having.

And all the while, watching from the sidelines, is the aforementioned Jenkins - dead, but not forgotten, but appearing for many a surreal moment, as the family attempts to confront their unspoken feelings for him.

It makes for a heady mix, but an extremely satisfying one, that manages to combine laughter with moments of extreme poignance; and an overall effect of breathtaking brilliance.

Performance-wise, it is difficult to pick out a winner, as everyone - from central characters to support players - are on terrific form.

As Nate, Krause is probably the most identifiable and, therfore, most cool, but Ambrose and Conroy run him close for overall acting honours.

The pace of each of the 13 episodes is also expertly judged, seldom allowing things to flag, while the visual panache and surreal nature of many of the proceedings lends things an almost mystical quality, which forces you to confront many of your own feelings.

Each episode begins with a death that is more outlandish than the previous, occasionally throwing in a real twist to set things up beautifully - as in the humdinger featuring the demise of Claire's boyfriend's younger brother in a gun accident.

While the issues it tackles - from acceptance, to homosexuality, to growing old, to schizophrenia - are all dealt with in an adult and no-nonsense way that sets it apart from the majority of 'safe' US TV.

That it hasn't generated the viewing figures it deserves on Channel 4 is bordering on scandalous, for this deserves far more than the 'cult' following it currently enjoys.

That said, programme schedulers deserve to he shot for putting the second season up against 24 on Sunday evenings - for, by all accounts, it is every bit as good as the first.

If you missed this on TV, however, don't let it pass you by on DVD. This is well worth a place in anyone's collection, particularly if you like your TV to be challenging and profoundly moving at the same time.

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