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.
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 BSOD: 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.
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.
Out with a Bang: A little delayed, but Maggie literally fucked his brains out.
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.
"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.
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.
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?"
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.
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 Mother: Claire tries to fight the fear that she might eventually burn out artistically and turn out to be just like 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.
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.
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.
Heroic BSOD: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Brenda's bipolar younger brother. He plays an important role in Claire's life as he was the one who introduced her to photography. After teaching her photography class, the two have a short relationship.
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-apperance Bernard succumbs to stomach cancer.
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.
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.
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.
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.