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Six Feet Under is an Americanmarker television drama series created and produced by Alan Ball. It premiered on the premium cable network HBO in the United States on June 3, 2001 and ended on August 21, 2005, spanning five seasons and 63 episodes. The show was produced by Actual Size Films and The Greenblatt/Janollari Studio and was shot on location in Los Angelesmarker and in Hollywoodmarker studios. The show revolves around members of the Fisher family, who run their funeral home in Los Angeles, and their friends and lovers. The series traces these characters' lives over the course of five years. The ensemble drama stars Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick and Rachel Griffiths as the show's seven central characters.

Six Feet Under received widespread critical acclaim, particularly for its writing and acting, and consistently drew high ratings for the HBO network. Six Feet Under has frequently been described by critics as one of the greatest television series of all time.The series is noted for its exploration of mortality and death in western society. It won numerous awards, including three Golden Globe and nine Emmy. It also generated controversy for its graphical depiction of sexuality and some of the themes it addressed.

Show synopsis

The show stars Peter Krause as Nathaniel Samuel "Nate" Fisher Jr., the son of a funeral director who, upon the death of his father (Richard Jenkins), reluctantly becomes a partner in the family funeral business with his brother David, (Michael C. Hall). The Fisher clan also includes widow Ruth (Frances Conroy) and daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose). Other regulars include mortician and family friend Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez), Nate's on-again, off-again girlfriend Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), and David's long-term boyfriend Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick).

On one level, the show is a conventional family drama, dealing with such issues as relationships, infidelity, and religion. At the same time, it is a show distinguished by its unblinking focus on the topic of death, which it explores on multiple levels (personal, religious, and philosophical). Each episode begins with a death — anything from drowning or heart attack to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — and that death usually sets the tone for each episode, allowing the characters to reflect on their current fortunes and misfortunes in a way that is illuminated by the death and its aftermath. The show also has a strong dosage of dark humor and surrealism running throughout.

A recurring plot device consists of a character having an imaginary conversation with the deceased; for example, Nate, David, and Federico sometimes "converse" with the person who died at the beginning of the episode, while they are being embalmed or planning or during the funeral. Sometimes, the conversation is with other recurring deceased characters, most notably Nathaniel Fisher Sr., his father. The show's creator Alan Ball states they represent the living character's internal dialogue by exposing it as an external conversation.


Although overall plots and characters were created by Alan Ball, there are conflicting reports on how the series was conceived. In one instance, Ball stated that he came up with the premise of the show after the deaths of his sister and father. However, in an interview, he intimates that HBO entertainment president Carolyn Strauss proposed the idea to him. In a copyright-infringement lawsuit, screenwriter Gwen O’Donnell asserted that she was the original source of the idea which later passed through Strauss to Ball; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, proceeding on the assumption that this assertion was true, rejected her claim.

Major themes

The show focuses on human mortality and the lives of those who deal with it on a daily basis. When discussing the concept of the show, creator Alan Ball elaborates on the foremost questions the show’s pilot targeted:

Six Feet Under introduces the Fisher family as the basis on which to explore these questions. Throughout its five-season, 63-episode run, major characters experience crises which are in direct relation to their environment and the grief they’ve experienced. Alan Ball again relates these experiences as well as the choice of the series’ title, to the persistent subtext of the program:

As Shoshana and Teman suggest in their sociological analysis of the "life-self" and the "death-self" embodied by the members of the Fisher family, "The series hurls death provocatively in the viewer's face, each episode consciously serving as a "memento mori" for its audience. Consequently, death is starkly present within the life-world of the series, challenging the strict binary between life and death. The blurring of these boundaries evokes the idea that the living can be more lifeless than the physically deceased and the departed can be livelier than the living."

Character histories and cast

Main Characters
Actor Character Relationship
Peter Krause Nathaniel Samuel "Nate" Fisher Jr. Eldest son of Ruth and Nathaniel; co-operator of Fisher & Diaz.
Michael C. Hall David James Fisher Middle child of Ruth and Nathaniel; co-operator of Fisher & Diaz.
Frances Conroy Ruth Fisher Matriarch of Fisher family.
Lauren Ambrose Claire Simone Fisher Youngest child of Ruth and Nathaniel; artist of the family.
Freddy Rodriguez Federico Diaz Business partner and embalmer at Fisher & Diaz with Nate and David; husband of Vanessa.
Mathew St. Patrick Keith Charles Los Angeles police officer with a long-term relationship with David.
Rachel Griffiths Brenda Chenowith Daughter of Margaret and Bernard Chenowith; sister of Billy; on-again, off-again partner with Nate.
Jeremy Sisto Billy Chenowith Brenda’s younger brother who has bipolar disorder; son of Margaret and Bernard Chenowith.
Justina Machado Vanessa Diaz Registered nurse; wife and high school sweetheart of Federico.
James Cromwell George Sibley Geologist/professor; second husband to Ruth.
Lili Taylor Lisa Kimmel Fisher Nate’s former girlfriend and roommate while living in Seattlemarker; she subsequently becomes involved again in his life.
Supporting Characters
Actor Character Relationship
Richard Jenkins Nathaniel Samuel Fisher Sr. Patriarch of Fisher family and owner of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home before his death in a car accident in 2000. Husband of Ruth; father of Nate, David and Claire.
Patricia Clarkson Sarah O’Connor Younger sister of Ruth Fisher, an artist who lives in Topanga Canyonmarker.
Kathy Bates Bettina Sarah’s friend and caretaker who becomes Ruth’s friend.
Joanna Cassidy Margaret Chenowith Psychologist mother of Brenda and Billy; wife of Bernard.
Robert Foxworth Dr. Bernard Chenowith Brenda and Billy’s psychiatrist father; husband to Margaret.
Peter Macdissi Olivier Castro-Staal Professor of Form and Space at LAC-Arts; lover to Margaret Chenowith. Aspects of this character may be based on Nathan Oliveira
Rainn Wilson Arthur Martin A young intern from Cypress College mortuary school who works for the funeral home briefly.
Ben Foster Russell Corwin A friend of Claire.
Mena Suvari Edie Free spirited lesbian artist and friend of Claire.
Sprague Grayden Anita Miller A friend of Claire.
Marina Black Parker McKenna A friend of Claire.
Eric Balfour Gabriel Dimas Claire’s high school boyfriend who was a chronic drug user.
Ed O'Ross Nikolai Owner of Blossom d’Amour Flower Shop; boyfriend of Ruth Fisher when she worked as a florist.


The series' main theme, written by composer Thomas Newman, won an Emmy award for Outstanding Main Title Theme Music and Grammy awards for Best Instrumental Composition and Best Instrumental Arrangement for title theme.


Season promotionals

The following songs were played during the teaser trailers for the seasons following the first:

Episode recaps

The song played during each episode recap is a 1995 single called "Nothing Lies Still Long" by Pell Mell.

Episode previews

Previews for upcoming episodes feature the Six Feet Under theme. The first and fifth seasons feature the original version of the song while the second, third and fourth seasons feature the Rae & Christian remix.



Two soundtrack albums, featuring music that had appeared in the series, were released:


HBO broadcast history

  • Season 1: Sunday June 3, 2001–Sunday August 19, 2001—10:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 2: Sunday March 3, 2002–Sunday June 2, 2002—9:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 3: Sunday March 2, 2003–Sunday June 1, 2003—9:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 4: Sunday June 13, 2004–Sunday September 12, 2004—9:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 5: Monday June 6, 2005–Monday July 4, 2005—9:00 p.m.
    • Sunday July 10, 2005–Sunday August 21, 2005—9:00 p.m. ET and PT


  11. Six Feet Under: In Memoriam Interview
  12. Funky Films vs. Time Warner Legal Case
  13. Finale episode Audio Commentary with Alan Ball, Six Feet Under: The Complete Fifth Season DVD
  14. Shoshana, Avi and Teman, Elly, "Coming Out of the Coffin: 'Life-self' and 'Death-self' in Six Feet Under[1]

External links

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