Thursday, December 4, 2014

Strong Characterization in Six Feet Under

Few shows have ever involved me as much as Alan Ball's Six Feet Under. The show premiered in 2001 on HBO and ran for 5 seasons. Its about one family who runs a funeral home out of their house. The first scene in the first episode of the first season the father, and owner of the business, is killed in a car accident. The rest of the show follows the family as they spiral out from this event. My mother and I binge-watched this show when I was in high school and when the last episode ended we took ourselves out for a mourning dinner. We felt like we had lost a part of our family. This sounds super cheesy and corny but its true. Six Feet Under has some of the strongest, most developed, most realistic characters on TV, and anyone who's watched the show can tell you that you can't help but get entangled in their drama.

One of the main things that makes these characters so special is the fact that they have flaws. Not just little things, like they're messy or disorganized, like big, reoccurring flaws. But it's not far-fetched or random things like "they're evil" or "they're crazy" its much more subtle and realistic things that everyone can relate to. For example, one of the main characters David Fisher is a closeted gay man in the first season but even when he comes out he struggles with deep feelings of shame and guilt which ruin relationships and lead him to some of his lowest points. I have not seen any other shows which allow a character's flaws and past to impact their present, and the show, as much as Six Feet Under does.

Another remarkable thing about the Fisher's is that they change. Again these are not superficial changes like getting divorced or getting a new job, they change on a deeper level than that. For example in the beginning of the show, Claire Fisher, the youngest, is an angsty high school student who smokes crack and leaves severed limbs in her ex-boyfriends locker. Over the course of the show she realizes she wants to be a photographer and the show follows her on this journey. We see her grow up and mature. The Claire in season 5 is completely different than the Claire in season 1, but yet she's still her. I feel that not many shows that I've seen give characters changes like this. They may change on the surface or be depressed for half a season, they might have a completely random personality change that doesn't make sense but in Six Feet Under people age and mature and change with their experiences.

Because the characters in this show are so realistic and relatable the show is realistic and relatable. If  more films and TV series strove for this, we would have much better things being produced. If a show or film can get audiences engaged with the characters, they can keep that audience interested. The show can be on the melodramatic side, but its the strong characters which ground it, and make it an exceptional show.

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