Probate & TV … Six Feet Under

HBO’s Six Feet Under was one of the most acclaimed TV shows in recent memory, though somewhat under the radar, obscured a bit by the big hits like The Sopranos and Mad Men. It’s the story of a family owned funeral home. Each episode began with a death, the deceased would end up at the Fisher Funeral Home in Los Angeles, the plots spun off (wildly, usually) from there.

The death that kicked off the series was Nathaniel FIsher’s death, the family patriarch and owner of the funeral home. It’s a startlingly sudden death and it reverberates through all five seasons of Six Feet Under. Nathaniel has a son working in the business, another who has said for years he has no interest, a high school aged daughter, and a wife who was only peripherally involved with business manners beyond being a comforting presence for mourners. (I should probably mention here that the family lives in the funeral home).

The first episodes – though the theme remains through at least the first two seasons – is the family dealing with the sudden death, probate issues around the business, familial clashes about… well, everything but most especially about running the business when it’s unclear not only who the ‘true’ owner’s are, but how the responsibilities of day-to-day operations should fall across not only the family members but the loyal employees. One of whom, by the way, was promised an ownership role since one of the brothers ‘didn’t care about the business.’

It’s fascinating and a very real, very gripping, and, really, very entertaining view of many of the issues we see everyday and have written about here.

One other thing – popular culture has never, and may never again, capture death and the survivors’ reactions and coping mechanisms and subsequent actions any better that Six Feet Under did. Five seasons of starting every show with a death and portraying reactions to that death. I don’t believe they ever got it wrong.

By the way, the last episode is considered the best last show in television history.