Thursday, July 20, 2006

On Death and Dying

Series in Review

My subjects for review today both examine themes that were very dear to the heart of the late doctor Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, namely dying and getting ready to die. We'll start with the dying first and my review of the 3rd season of Six Feet Under.

Season three for Six Feet was a very transitional year for the series, as reinforced by the season promo which features the shows lead characters cavorting about a stylized cliff. While many of the tonal qualities of the series remanded the same the show did go in a different direction in regards to a maturing of the characters both in personal growth and a slight decrease in recklessness, or maybe narrowing of recklessness would be a more accurate phrase. Both stylistic and content wise the show was strong, starting with Nates journey into 'parallel' universes in episode one, the strangely joyous episode four, and the long dark journey of despair Nate takes in the final four episodes.

Claire (Lauren Ambrose) has two romantic relationships this season, one with a non-committal crematory worker and amateur musician, and one with a sexually confused artist. David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith's (Mathew St. Patrick) paring has its ups and downs, complet with visits to a therapist. Ruth befriends Bettina (Kathy Bates), helps her sister (Patrica Clarkson) get off some hard drugs, becomes briefly obsessed with the homes new intern (the brilliantly nerdy Rainn Wilson), and ends up as wife number 7 for geology professorGeorge Sibley (James Cromwell). Brenda(Rachel Griffiths) losses her father to cancer, wisely limits contact with the rest of her family, and makes real progress in overcoming her self-destructive streak. Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) deals with his wifes depression and nagging sister in-law quite well for some time, but in the final episode of the season makes an unwise choice that will doubtless have major consequences.

It's Nate's arc this season however that is most central and interesting. After surviving his brain operation that was season 2's cliff hanger, he decides to marry the mother of his child Lisa Kimmel (Lili Taylor). At first Nate subsumes himself trying to act out the part of the husband Lisa wants him to be. A dream conversation with his late father (Richard Jenkins) forces Nate to confront the fact that he may have married Lisa for the wrong reasons, and this health obsessed character turns to smoking after he and his wife and daughter move into the apartment over the funeral homes garage, when Lisa quiets her job as vegan cook to eccentric producer Carol Ward (Catherine O'Hara). Eventually Nate can no longer subsume himself to Lisa's demanding expectations and the two start thinking about a separation, but this is put on hold when while inside a Pyramid at Claire art show, they decide to start anew as who they really are rather then who the other expects them to be, which leads to some real progress and what appears to be Nate genuinely falling in love with Lisa. As things finally start to right themselves Lisa goes missing while on a trip to visit her sister, with all these events leading to the seasons tragic ending and Nates spiraling personal decline.

Again as stated in my review for season 2 of Six Feet Under this is an intense, dark and adult show, however also very powerful and rewarding viewing if your primed for it. Now more then half way to the series end its still hard to know what dark yet true things creator Alan Ball and his writing staff are prepared to throw at the viewer.


My first britcom and still my favorite Waiting for God, which once ran ubiquitously on our local PBS affiliate in the mid-to-late 90's, has finally had its complete first season released on one DVD. Created by Michael Aitkens (who was only in his forties at the time), the show is set at the Bayside Retirement Village whose inmates, I mean residents spend their golden years waiting to meet their maker. Tom Ballard (Graham Crowden) is a retired accountant whose boring life has left him prone to flights of fantasy. When Tom's notoriously dull son Geoffrey (Andrew Tourell) at the bidding of his shrewish wife Marion (Sandra Payne), decides to check his father into the retirement community into which they have invested, the 'old man' is unhappily resigned to his fate. That is until he meets Diana Trent (Stephanie Cole), a former photo-journalist and his neighbor at Bayview who is a decided cynic and just lives to torment the community's cheap-skate administrator Harvey Baines (Daniel Hill) and his sweet natured, plan faced assistant Jane Edwards (Janine Duvitski). Full of reflections on death, God, and what it means to be old, Waiting for God is a rather philosophical sitcom that treats 'the aged' with both humor and dignity.


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