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TV Review: 'Six Feet Under' thinks out of the box again

Saturday, March 01, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Like many HBO subscribers, I came for "The Sopranos" but stayed for "Six Feet Under."

New season regulars for "Six Feet Under" include, from left, Lauren Ambrose, Michael C. Hall, Peter Krause and Fraces Conroy. (Art Steiber)

"Six Feet Under"

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow on HBO.

Starring: Peter Krause, Lili Taylor

The series about the family running the Fisher & Sons funeral home -- now renamed Fisher & Diaz -- returns for its third season at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

If you were exasperated by Brenda's self-destructive, sexually indiscriminate behavior, you may want to return to the fold. Life is much different this time around, at least in the first five episodes made available to reviewers.

It's impossible to write about a returning series without giving some details away, so consider yourself warned about spoilers.

Tomorrow's episode opens in the operating room where Nate (Peter Krause) is undergoing brain surgery -- and slipping away. When Nate asks his late father, "Am I dead, yes or no?" the answer is, "Yes and no."

When the action fast-forwards seven months, we learn that much has changed in the intervening time. Lisa (Lili Taylor), Nate's hippie friend who gave birth to their daughter, is a regular presence, while Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) and her freaky family are nowhere to be found. Claire (Lauren Ambrose) is in art school, Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) has his name on the sign out front and is adjusting to the heartbreak that happens upstairs, while David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) are in couples counseling.

Everything feels so off-kilter that you may find yourself wondering if "Six Feet Under" is pulling a "Dallas." Will Nate wake up in the shower, saying it was all a dream?

But "Six Feet Under" is better than that as it explores a host of themes, including reality and dreams, life and death, fathers and sons, life-changing events that are planned and ones that are accidents, choices you make and choices that are made for you, freedom and imprisonment. "You just never know ... what life has in store for you," Nate acknowledges.

"Six Feet Under" has some wonderful guest stars in store, including Kathy Bates as a free spirit who befriends matriarch Ruth Fisher (Frances Conroy) and a hilarious Catherine O'Hara as Carol, Lisa's landlord and self-centered, demanding boss who works in the movie business and name-drops like a Variety columnist. "I had a very upsetting conference call with Kate Hudson's people," she says, working herself into a frenzy. Her performance alone is worth the extra cost each month for HBO.

And you have to love a show in which a record-store clerk endorses a customer's purchase by saying, "This CD is so great for, like, taking diet pills and cleaning your bathroom." Or when a 50-something woman rationalizes shoplifting by suggesting, "Fortunately, women our age are invisible ... so we can really get away with murder."

While other dramas are stuck in ruts of repetition or take predictable paths, "Six Feet Under" digs deeper and returns at the top of its game. Not to sound greedy or like Carol's boss, who demands miniature corn muffins one morning from her personal chef, but the five episodes left me wanting more.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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