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Nathaniel Fisher Sr.
- "Life is wasted on the living."Played by: Richard Jenkins
- Cool Old Guy: Becomes evident he was one of these as his children discover more about him after his death.
- Hidden Depths: His sons get to discover several Not So Different traits.
- Honest Corporate Executive: Of the Family Business variety.
- Mentor: To Rico. He was the one who saw his talent and sponsored his education as a funeral director.
- Plot-Triggering Death: His fatal car accident is what drives the Fisher family together again and gets his older son into the family business.
- Posthumous Character: He dies in the pilot, but he keeps appearing throughout the series and speaking to several characters.
- Shotgun Wedding: He married Ruth because she got pregnant with Nate.
- Tough Love: He often appears this way in the visions his children have, and it is implied that he was a frank and honest person in life, too, giving a callous impression.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: The Fisher boys try to live up to his real or imagined standards and opinions, but his death makes him ultimately unpleasable as he is no longer there to acknowledge them.
Nathaniel "Nate" Fisher, Jr.
- "I'm a funeral director. Well, I was born into it... like being born into the mafia."Played by: Peter Krause
- Big Brother Instinct: Mentions in the beginning that, before their father died, he barely knew Claire, but he's always looking out for her.
- Black Sheep: A deconstruction in the sense it's taken to the logical consequences since he never evolves into a family man despite his half-hearted attempts.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Generally riddled with personal issues and often has existential crises relating to his home life and job, but by all accounts Nate is a very competent funeral director. In addition he's a very loving and doting father to Maya.
- Carpet of Virility: He's in good shape. His hairy chest is manly and attractive.
- The Casanova : His backstory.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: His arteriovenous malformation almost killed him in season 2. In season 5 it comes back, this time fatally.
- Fallen Hero: He gradualy becomes less sympathetic throughout the series.
- Friends with Benefits: Nate and his Lisa from Seattle have a casual relationship. Lampshaded by his sister Claire: "So you're like, what, Fuck Buddies?" Cue unfomfortable looks from both Lisa and Nate.
- Generation Xerox: He shares more than his name with his father. They both married women they barely knew after knocking them up, they both got into the funeral business rather against their will but showed a great talent for dealing with grieving people and they both die rather early.
- Granola Guy: Spent many years playing this part in Seattle, but is mostly abandoned when he comes home and reconnects with his roots.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Lisa's death really hit Nate hard. Mostly because he felt guilty, he wanted Lisa out of his life (but didn't want to lose his daughter in the process) and he got what he wanted in the worst way possible. Arguably he never really recovered.
- Honest Corporate Executive: Doesn't put the customer before the human being.
- I Am Not My Father: The two things he never wanted to be as a teenager were 1. a funeral director and 2. married. By the beginning of season 3 he is both.
- In the Blood: His deep compassion and innate ability to comfort people is said to be something his father also possessed. It's also implied that his father shared his rebellious spirit, which Claire clearly shows as well.
- Killed Off for Real: He dies near the end of season 5. He was struggling with his brain condition but seemed to be ok. His collapse and subsequent death came out of the blue.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: He sleeps with his ex exactly once and she gets pregnant. However, it's later implied that Maya might not be his biological daughter.
- Nice Guy: A flawed one, but he tries to be amiable and to avoid conflicts.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: He's got no luck in that field.
- Brenda's brother is heavily unstable and initially tries his best to sabotage their relationship whenever he can. And her parents never fail to make him uncomfortable.
- We only get to know Lisa's family after her death, but they're a handful: Denying Lisa's wishes about her burial, trying to take Maya away from Nate, not to mention her sister's husband turned out to be her killer...
- Out with a Bang: A little delayed, but Maggie literally fucked his brains out.
- Perma Stubble: Except when he deals with clients.
- Rebel Prince: Would have been the heir to his family business if he hadn't 'run away' to find a new life in Seattle.
- Reluctant Ruler: Would have inherited the position as the boss of the family business, but he 'ran away' because he was afraid of death and didn't want to be responsible for helping people through it. Turns out that he is highly gifted at handling people and has a unique ability to help them understand why their lives have been shattered by loss.
- Sibling Rivalry: With David, initially. The two eventually work out their problems and become very close. David is the only one with Nate when he unexpectedly dies.
- Shotgun Wedding: He marries Lisa briefly after she gave birth to his first daughter.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: In Season Five. Also when Lisa goes missing.
- Unexpected Inheritance: The 50% of the mortuary.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: While investigating some strange notations in their company's financial ledger, Nate finds out from some former customers that his father was exceptionally proud that he refused to go into the family business and instead went to find his own life in Seattle.
- Your Cheating Heart: His wife Lisa was suffocating him but it was actually her who was cheating on him.
- Nate cheated on Brenda exactly once when they were married, before having a brain haemorrhage post-coitus and then suffering a stroke and dying several hours later
- "Yeah, I'll be the strong one, the stable one, the dependable one, because that's what I do. And everyone around me will fall apart. 'Cause that's what they do."Played by: Michael C. Hall
- Big Brother Instinct: Like Nate, he's very protective of Claire. Also an inversion. Younger David ultimately looks out for Nate as if he were the older brother.
- Control Freak: He's very anxious and tries to make everything perfect and professional. Keith sometimes makes fun of it.
- The Dutiful Son: As a child he always wanted to become a lawyer, but chose the family business instead.
- Friend to All Children: He's great with kids, for instance Lisa's sister's children immediately take a liking to him. Michaela is clearly troubled and tells him she's glad to have him in her family, and he replies to have her in his family as well. He's distressed when an insensitive woman scolds her daughter who cries for her deceased alcoholic father. He longs to have kids of his own because he's a family man.
- Gayngst: Initially. He had troubles coming out to his family and felt horrible about himself. He was also envious of gays who were comfortable with their sexuality.
- Honest Corporate Executive: Very much like his father, he isn't going for the biggest profit and often recommends grieving families the cheaper options.
- Kick the Dog: Done to him in the fourth season, when he is carjacked, robbed, forced to smoke crack, beaten up, has a gun put in his mouth and gasoline poured on him by a young hitchhiker. Handled fairly well in that this horrifying and arbitrary experience leaves long-lasting emotional scars. This is given even more gravity when he goes to confront the criminal in jail, and the guy doesn't even remember him. Then tries to manipulate him into feeling sorry for him again.
- Passed-Over Inheritance: At first he's surprised and not pleased about having to share the family business with Nate.
- Sibling Rivalry: With Nate, initially. They eventually work out their problems and become very close. David becomes very tearful when Nate first undergoes surgery for his AVM. They eventually become so close that David is with Nate when he suddenly dies.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Implied that he entered the family business just to please his father and was therefore very resentful not only that Nate got the respect that David deserved but he got to live his life the way he wanted in the process.
- Played by: Lauren Ambrose
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Lampshaded in dialogue a number of times, when her brothers or friends talk to her about her taste in men. She even discusses it with her school counselor at one point and later with Nate, saying she is attracted to relationships where she feels needed.
- Beneath the Mask: Has repressed a lot of her emotions, a common trait in the Fisher family.
- This is also explored with her school therapist, and seems to be a result of growing up in a funeral home, where 'you have to be careful' about people because they're always in the home on the worst day of their lives. She learns to handle her emotions better, but occasionally has explosive emotional outbursts.
- A notable one being when she is being interviewed for a place in art school, and is asked about the sudden dramatic drop in her grades. She bursts into tears when she finally explains that it happened when her father died.
- She often redirects her feelings, too. Nate once points this out to her when she is crying about being abandoned by her boyfriend, and he identifies her emotions as really being about their father's death. With her usual humor, she responds, "God, can't I just get upset without having to focus on what's really making me upset?"
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Had her moments in the first couple seasons, mostly when Ruth tried to become closer to her through mutual activities like spinning.
- Cool Car: A bright green Cadillac hearse!
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. She decides to go through abortion when she gets pregnant with her boyfriend Russell who cheated on her with a male professor. She found out about her pregnancy when they were broken up.
- Fatal Attractor: Many of her boyfriends have severe problems with the law (Gabe) or their own mental health (Russel, Billy).
- Functional Addict: She tried out all kinds of light and hard drugs over the course of the series, but except for the time after Nate's death we never see her crash.
- Happily Married: While never stated she seems to be this with Ted Fairwell in the end of the last episodes flash forward.
- Hello, Nurse!: Despite considering herself to be rather awkward and average, she's always had several suitors and rarely has a hard time getting the guy (or girl) she wants.
- I Am Not My Father: Claire tries to fight the fear that she might eventually burn out artistically and turn out to be just like her mother Ruth. Ruth, for her part, says that she see herself in her daughter and gets very angry when Claire drops out of college because she doesn't want her to waste her life as she did.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Despite how blunt and borderline rude she can sometimes be, she does genuinely care about her friends and family. And she tries to be as supportive as possible during difficult times.
- Opposites Attract: She typically dates men that are cynical, dark, and troubled (like she is). Then she dates Ted, and apparently marries him, who is the opposite of her in almost every ideological way and has a much brighter and encouraging outlook on life, which is exactly what she needs.
- She Is All Grown Up: She becomes more womanly every season.
- True Love Is Exceptional: Throughout the series most her partners were artistic types with various degrees of mental instability. Then she meets Ted, a serene conservative lawyer and eventually marries him.
- Played by: Frances Conroy
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: She has her moments when she's downright weird.
- Coming-of-Age Story: A subversion, in that she is around 50 years old when it happens but has been emotionally stunted for most of her life. She gets married at 19, has a family, and lives in a repressive household where no personal growth seems to happen for many years. After Nathaniel's death, she is on her own for the first time. She goes to a floral arrangement class, gets a job, has flings and boyfriends, makes new friends who introduce her to new experiences (like gambling, shoplifting, and a road trip to Mexico). She makes a lot of mistakes but her emotional and personal growth is very noticeable and when she returns to being a strong pillar of support in her family, she is much more accessible and is able to relate with her children as an adult who understands they are also adults.
- Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have: She is often commended on her timeless beauty by men and women alike.
- I Want Grandkids: In the first two seasons she is shown to be quite frustrated about neither of her adult sons being anywhere close to founding a family. When Maya is born, she's overjoyed.
- May-December Romance: Her relationship with Arthur (though it was never sexual).
- Parental Sexuality Squick: Her children sometimes have this reaction to her boyfriends, though usually they only show outright disgust when they can actually hear her having sex. Treated more realistically, in that her children are aware of her relationships and often candidly talk with her about them.
- Your Cheating Heart: Was having an affair with a man named Hiram Gunderson while married to Nate Sr. She feels very guilty about it.
- Played by: Rachel Griffiths
- Babies Ever After: The flashforward in the series finale shows her pregnant and happily remarried.
- Child Prodigy: As a kid, she aced a standardized test and had been a top-achiever ever since, until her brother's condition forced her to pass on her Ivy League acceptance. Her witty conversations with her therapist became a best-selling book.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Nate leaving her after finding out about her many affairs really broke her up. Then Nate asking for a divorce right before he died, leaving her with an unborn baby, hurt her much, much more.
- Jerkass: Downplayed; a bit self-centered, uppity and lacking empathy at times, due to emotional instability.
- Obfuscating Insanity: In her childhood she studied and emulated the symptoms of various mental diseases to mock her psychiatrists.
- Parental Sexuality Squick: Casually averted. She certainly doesn't like walking in on her mother having sex, but it is discussed several times that her parents used to have sex in front of her and her brother, as well as hosting sex parties in their homes growing up. This explains the cavalier attitude she has about it, and may even have been a factor in why Billy's relationship with her is so unusual.
- Really Gets Around: In the first two seasons Brenda had a very wild sex drive, leading her to cheat on Nate and become a sex addict in season two. Following this she receives treatment for sex addiction and as a result matures.
- Replacement Goldfish: According to Alan Ball, Brenda actually had two husbands after Nate. Clearly the interim husband was just to fill the void.
- Second Love: Has found one as of 2008.
- Tattoo as Character Type: She and her brother have the names of their childbook heroes tattoed on their lower backs. Billy cut his off and tried to do the same to Brenda
- Tropaholics Anonymous: When she decides to do something about her sex addiction.
Keith Dwayne Charles
- Played by: Matthew St. Patrick
- Abusive Parents: His father (who is also very unsupportive of his homosexuality). Their relationship is very complicated, as while Keith's father would beat him and his sister and seems to show nothing but hostility towards him face-to-face, a conversation with Taylor reveals that his father really does love him.
- Angry Black Man: He doesn't take shit from racists, homophobes and other bigots which gets him into trouble more than once.
- Badass Gay: He's a former LAPD cop, a professional bodyguard and a gifted athlete.
- Bi the Way: Downplayed since his occasional interest in women is purely physical.
- Body Guard Crush: An apparent one turns out to be a Secret Test of Character.
- Calling the Old Man Out: He doesn't take it well when David is the one who does it on Keith's behalf.
- Fair Cop: Many characters, particularly his fellow gays, note how handsome he is in his police uniform. He himself hates getting shoehorned into the "tall gay black cop" sexual fantasy.
- I Am Not My Father: Keith often tries to fight his abusive tendencies because he doesn't want to be his father. Unlike practically everybody else with parental similarity issues, Keith manages to overcome his problems and we can see Keith adjusting to the idea of being a father to his two adopted sons.
- Parental Substitute: To his niece.
- Straight Gay: To the point where he is uncomfortable around David's Camp Gay choir friends.
- Wife-Basher Basher: The reason he was kicked off the police force
Hector Federico "Rico" Díaz
- Played by: Freddy Rodriguez
- The Ace: He is really talented at his job.
- Beleaguered Assistant: He gets the occasional Dude, Where's My Respect? moment.
- Challenge Seeker: He enjoys demanding restorations the most and prefers to leave the easier ones to David. One particulary smashed head was the initial reason he briefly left for Kroehner.
- Foot-Dragging Divorcee: It pays off eventually, though.
- Henpecked Husband: Vanessa does have her moments, especially when she gets backed up by her sister.
- Heteronormative Crusader: Due to his Latin American Catholic upbringing he often shows homophobic tendencies, which leads to some trouble with his boss.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Zigzagged with a weird and costly affair.
- Nightmare Fetishist: As part of his Challenge Seeker persona, he often downright gushes over the disfigured corpses he gets to fix up.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Does not like his wife's sister. It's mutual.
- Start My Own: After Nate's death he ultimately sells his share of Fisher & Diaz to start his own funeral home.
- Unexpected Inheritance: He gets over a hundred grand from his elderly neighbour, which improves his social situation drastically.
- Played by: Patricia Clarkson
- Cool Aunt: She's well-liked by her sister's children, especially Claire, whom she inspired to go into the arts.
- The Lost Lenore: As revealed in her tearjerking speech to Ruth, the only man she ever loved died in her twenties.
- The Muse: Implied to have been one when she was younger.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: She hosts lavish esoteric parties at her house and likes to talk about "the goddess".
- Played by: Justina Machado
- Played by: Jeremy Sisto
- Insane Equals Violent: He regularly refuses to medicate his BPD, with dire consequences. No less than three main characters (Nate, Claire, Brenda) had to fear for their lives around him on several occasions.
- Mad Artist: He's an accomplished photographer with a severe case of Bipolar Disorder.
- No Medication for Me: Slips sometimes.
- Physical Scars, Psychological Scars: He carves out his Isabel-tattoo with a knife.
- Stalker with a Crush: A bizarre and very scary example; he follows Brenda and Nate to Las Vegas, breaks into their hotel room while they're sleeping, and takes photos of them in bed. Afterward, Brenda demands he return his key to her house, and he has a complete mental and emotional breakdown, begs her not to take his keys, then makes threatening comments such as, "Do you know how easy it would be to break in here?" After she takes his key, he sets Nate up to walk into his staged suicide with photos of Nate's sister in intimate situations, and then rants at Nate about his love for Brenda while holding a knife.
Bernard & Margaret Chenowith
- Played by: Robert Foxworth & Joanna Cassidy
- Abusive Parents: Downplayed. They were never intentionally cruel to their kids. Still, their approach to parenting was far from optimal.
- Back for the Dead: In his first season-3-appearance Bernard succumbs to stomach cancer.
- Divorce Is Temporary: After getting divorced when Bernard oversteps their open relationship agreement, they get back together rather quickly.
- Hollywood Atheist: Both of them. According to Margaret, Bernard's brother (who is a rabbi) never forgave him for being successful...and for giving up Hanukkah. Bernard in turn thought his brother was a complete asshole.
- Informed Judaism: Bernard's brother is a rabbi. He seems to be the only one in his family who isn't a practicing Jew.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Margaret often gives Brenda some pretty good advice but in such a Jerkass way that Brenda ignores it on principle.
- Lady Drunk: Especially after Bernard's death, Margaret is often shown with a drink in her hand.
- The Shrink: Their jobs, which they are very enthusiastic about.
- Played by: Lili Taylor
- Anyone Can Die: She gets lost when she was travelling to visit her sister and family. After a rather long time her body is found. And even later, it's revealed that she had an affair with her brother-in-law who probably killed her because she was gonna say it to her sister.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: When married to Nate. Granted, she had a reason to be as Nate really loved Brenda and only married Lisa because that was what was expected of him.
- Before their marriage, Lisa had this crazy notion that she was the one for Nate and that he was finally going to come to his senses and see it. When he finds out she's pregnant, this is exactly what she says.
- Friends with Benefits: Originally her arrangement with Nate — casual friendly sex.
- Friend to All Living Things: Tries to talk the ants in her kitchen into leaving.
- Granola Girl: Part of her straw vegan persona. Back in Seattle she even ran an organic supermarket.
- Meat Versus Veggies: She unsuccessfully tries to get Nate and Claire into tofu meatloaf.
- Straw Vegetarian: She was a staunch vegan until her pregnancy.
- Yandere: Anonymously making a massage appointment with your husband's ex-fiancée to see what she's like does qualify.
Maya FisherNate and Lisa's baby daughter. When Lisa dies Brenda eventually takes over as Maya's mother and continues to raise her after Nate dies.
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In the season 4 finale it's revealed that Lisa had an affair with her sister's husband. Though, Nate is never shown to visibly care about the resulting possibilities.
- Played by: James Cromwell
- Absent-Minded Professor: Shown at times more concerned with geology than with social situations.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Ruth and him get married a few episodes after he is introduced.
- Hikikomori: Finding the bunker under the Fisher house triggered something in him. When he eventually moved into said bunker, men in white coats had to drag him out again.
- Sanity Slippage: In season 4 he becomes more and more obsessed with apocalyptic scenarios, which even caused him to relocate into a bomb shelter. Thus between seasons 4 and 5, he underwent treatment at a mental hospital.
- Serial Spouse: Ruth is number seven!
Anthony & Durrell Charles-Fisher
- Played by: C. J. Sanders & Kendre Berry
- Happily Adopted: They need their time, though.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Subverted. Actually they just have different ways of coping with the stress of adoption, especially since all the foster parents before David and Keith ultimately returned them. In fact they're both really nice guys.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Durrell. He gets better eventually.
- Played by: Eric Balfour
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: What actually happened to him after he shot that motorist was never explained. Claire sees him in a vision in Season 3 but that is no real indication of what happened to him. Somewhat justified in that this incident was the final straw for Claire, and afterwards, she vowed to never hang out with him again (a vow she clearly kept).
- Troubled, but Cute: He's very thuggish but also quite traumatized and unnerved by many of the things he does.
- Played by: Marina Black
- Brilliant, but Lazy: She's actually quite intelligent and occasionally gives Claire some pretty thoughtful advice. She's also a slacker who earns mediocre grades and scores high on her SAT's by paying an Asian student to take it under her name.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Justified, as high school was over and her and Claire's friendship was rather superficial. Claire also hated her ideologically for cheating on her SATs.
- Mushroom Samba: In her most memorable scene, she takes shrooms with Claire. Hilarity Ensues.
- Really Gets Around: Her rather wild and promiscuous nature is part of the reason why Claire is so drawn to her.
Kroehner Services International
- Big Bad: Of seasons 1 and 2. They keep trying to buy "Fisher And Sons" and vehemently refuse to take "No" for an answer... even if it means resorting to the most unethical measures possible.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: It's their thing. Their attempts to buy the Fishers is in flagrant violation of anti-trust laws (although no one mentions this).
- The Dragon: Matthew Gilardi to Mitzi Dalton Huntley
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Subverted. They suddenly go bankrupt at the end of the penultimate episode of season 2 and have a federal investigation done on themnote . However, in the season finale, they have one last laugh by hiring a health inspector to inspect the Fisher And Sons Funeral Home, resulting in Fisher And Sons being charged a $38,000 fine (which they can't afford to pay until Rico and Vanessa chip in with part of their $100,000 settlement in exchange for Rico becoming a business partner) for a backed up sewage system. "If I'm going down, you're going down with me" indeed!
- Faux Affably Evil: They're smugly cordial and polite but are also extremely pushy and resort to some very unethical business practices.
- Foil: To Fisher&Sons. Kroehner's shady methods and mass processing philosophy only makes the Fishers' way seem more noble.
- Insurance Fraud: They burn down an old house they had recently bought.
- Professional Butt-Kisser: Gilardi (arguably the Big Bad of Season 1) is revealed to be this to Mitzi in Season 2.
- Rich Bitch: Mitzi. She likes to display her wealth by thowing parties for her Kroehner lackeys.
- Small Name, Big Ego: They were a pretty large funeral directing firm but clearly overestimated both their power and their financial assets, leading to their eventual bankruptcy (as detailed above).
- Smug Smiler: Both Mitzi and Gilardi.
- Sleeping with the Boss: Apparently Gilardi and Mitzi had a brief sexual encounter once.
- Slimeball: During one of his pitches, Gilardi gets so far up Nate's butt even his Nate Sr. Imagine Spot starts making fun of it.
- You Have Failed Me: A non-lethal example. Gilardi eventually gets fired for repeatedly failing to buy out the Fishers.
- Played by: Ed O'Ross
- Fake Russian: Ed O'Ross is from Pennsylvania.
- Funny Foreigner: Often serves as a comic relief in the midst of the show's otherwise serious plots.
- Kavorka Man: He's not really conventionally attractive, but still has more than one middle-aged woman swooning over him.
- Played by: Rainn Wilson
- Played by: Peter Macdissi
- Cool Teacher: Arguably a deconstruction. He encourages his students to think and to open their minds but the way he does it is rarely if ever totally positive.
- Hot for Student: Slept with Russell, as well as with several of his former assistants including Billy, but notably not with Claire.
Anita Miller, Russell Corwin, Jimmy & Edie
- Played by: Sprague Grayden, Ben Foster, Peter Facinelli & Mena Suvari
- Artistic Stimulation: All of them are fond of getting creative while on drugs.
- Put on a Bus: After Claire quits, we only see them once.
- Played by: Kathy Bates
- Apron Matron: She's a tough and no-nonsense housewife
- Beneath Notice: She notes how women of her age are practically invisible to society, which she makes use of in regular shoplifting trips.
- Five-Finger Discount: She enjoys shoplifting and tries to get Ruth into it.
- Serial Spouse: Has been married four times.
- Played by: Chris Messina