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TeeVee Awards '03: Biggest Disappointment

A couplafew of years back, toward the end of the summer TV drought, we here at TeeVee became captivated. A television show arrived. The ad campaign said to us, "Your whole life has been leading up to this." It was love at first sight: we immediately tuned to HBO just to see if this show could possibly meet the expectations set by that one powerful phrase. "Your whole life has been leading up to this." To the funeral home. To death. To Six Feet Under.

From the very first note of the opening theme, we were drawn in. From the very first scene we knew we were watching a great, great television show. No: That's faint praise. A great work of art, as monumental a work as any great film or novel. A masterpiece. Finally, television had its masterpiece.

We were determined to write a review of it, to convince the masses that they absolutely had to, had to watch this show.

And then we didn't. We just completely did not get around to writing the glowing -- nay, incandescent -- review we had planned. And so Six Feet Under wrapped up its first season and we here at TeeVee said not one word.

That was a mistake. An injustice perpetrated on our readers.

The second season of Six Feet Under rolled around and again we said nary a thing. We were busy, or something. There's an excuse to be had if we wanted to look for one, we're sure.

Again, that was a mistake.

Then we heard rumors of the third season cranking up, so we sent Rywalt out to cover the story and we finally broke our TeeVee silence with his "Love Letter," wherein he claimed Six Feet Under was possibly the best TV show of all time. No, he said, never mind that, watching Six Feet Under is the most transcendent experience open to the human mind. Go out, all of you, he exhorted, and watch the third season of this, the greatest show ever visible upon the television screen!

And that was a huge, huge mistake.

Now we're here to apologize. We're sorry.

The third season of Six Feet Under was, alas, the biggest disappointment of the 2002-2003 TV season. It was more disappointing than the final, dreadful season of Oz. It sunk below the lowest bar set by the doddering, infantile, not-yet-final, umpteenth season of Friends. Yes, it even made CSI look pretty okay this year.

Each new episode of Six Feet Under gave us a new reason to yell and throw things at the Toshiba. Not only was this year a disappointment because of how good the past two seasons were. No, shows of this quality would have been disappointing from Emeril. This whole season was just bad, bad, bad.

It started off with promise as it wrapped up the cliff-hanger from the season before. Nate Fisher went in for his brain operation and found himself dead. What would happen? Perhaps we'd spend a season with the Fishers as they got over one more tragedy and Peter Krause would hang around as a ghost (or a memory) just like Richard Jenkins. That would certainly be a novel twist in a novel show. Instead, the show went in a different direction: It seemed that Nate would get a chance to choose a new future, one in which he wouldn't be dead. An alternate future, perhaps.

Unfortunately, Nate chose the future in which all of the characters we'd come to know and care about would turn into boobs and losers. Worst of all, Nate himself turned into the biggest loser of them all.

After he made his choice, the SFU curtain rose on a new situation: Nate settled down and married to Lisa, the mother of his baby in season two; David and Keith in therapy; Brenda missing in action (although Rachel Griffiths kept showing up in the credits).

In this new universe, Nate was a henpecked, sullen mope with a drinking problem instead of a cockeyed optimist trying his best to make his way through a flawed world. Lisa turned from happy, dippy flower child into insane harpy. David came wildly out of the closet and began meeting some of the most ridiculously stereotyped gay men in any Hollywood production; and the formerly sensitive, strong, philsophical Keith turned into a violent, angry jerk. And when she got back, Brenda had gone from an extremely intelligent if confused woman to an insecure dim bulb.

The other characters weren't spared, either. Claire's entire character pretty much vanished in favor of reaction shots to everything going on around her, until near the end of the season; then she turned around and did something so incredibly un-Claire-like -- dumping ambiguously gay artist boyfriend Russell -- we almost threw our TVs out. Claire's abortion was handled pretty well, we must admit, but amidst the wreckage of the rest of the show it could hardly hold up. Ruth went off on this crazy affair with the supremely creepy Arthur for no reason any human could fathom, then followed that up with about ten seconds of screen time with Babe-magnet James Cromwell before announcing their wedding. Rico's wife got herself hooked on pills to show off how hopelessly adrift Rico's plotlines in the show were. Ruth's sister got herself hooked on pills, too, only this time so Ruth could make friends with sometime-SFU-director Kathy Bates. If Ms. Bates had gotten naked ala her turn in "About Schmidt" it might have redeemed an episode or two; instead, her character just beamed up partway through the season and never came back. Nate Fisher, Sr. hardly ever showed his craggy face any more. In fact, the writers seemed to jettison the whole concept of matching the dead person of the week to some theme.

In short: The writing on the show just wandered off. Maybe the story editor had a stroke or took up surfing or just stopped showing up for work in the morning. Maybe the best writer on the show got themselves hooked on pills like Ruth's sister and Rico's wife. Maybe Jack Daniel's started sending over a case or two for use as product placement and the writers snagged them all for medicinal purposes. Whatever it was, it was a calamity: The Six Feet Under we knew and loved, the one that made sense, followed stories through, developed well-rounded and interesting characters; that Six Feet Under snuck out the back and was replaced by a show that would be embarrassed to air on weekday afternoons on NBC.

Eventually we were down to spending every episode hoping for Lisa to get hit by a bread truck.

There were a few, very few, good moments. Peter Macdissi chewed up the scenery entertainingly as Claire's art teacher Olivier. The episode where David and Keith played paintball was funny in a cheap sitcommy kind of way. It was nice to see Arye Gross, late of Ellen and "Hexed," getting work as David and Keith's therapist. Not that he was given anything at all to do, but it was nice to see him. The scenes where Nate and Lisa worked out their relationship had a nice realistic ring to them. Too bad we came to despise both characters anyway.

By the end of the season, when we finally realized that Lisa had in fact been hit by a bread truck -- or something equally stupid but at least awful had happened to her -- it was too late. We had already grown to hate Six Feet Under with the fire of a thousand burning suns.

The show will probably be back for a fourth season. When exactly that will be, who knows? HBO is on its own little planet when it comes to "seasons." Maybe we'll see new episodes next January, or next August, or sometime in 2010.

At this point, though, we'd have to advise: "Your whole series has been leading up to this -- cancellation."

Additional contributions to this article by: Chris Rywalt.


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