Six Feet Under is an HBOEnsembleDramedy created by Alan Ball that originally ran from 2001 to 2005, comprising 5 seasons and 63 episodes.The show follows the life of the Fishers, a family who runs a mortuary in Los Angeles. After family patriarch Nathaniel Fisher Sr. is killed in a car accident, his three children and widow take up running the family's funeral home business. Each episode begins with a death, which sets up that episode's funeral.Six Feet Under received widespread critical acclaim, particularly for its writing and acting, and consistently drew high ratings for the HBO network. Six Feet Under has frequently been described by critics as one of the greatest television series of all time as well as having one of the greatest series finales ever. It won numerous awards, including 9 Emmys, 3 SAGs, 3 Golden Globes, and a Peabody Award.Has a Character Page under construction, any contributions would be appreciated.
This show provides examples of:
Aborted Arc: Keith and David during one season go through an entire storyline about taking in Keith's niece, Taylor, as their own, and going through lengths to get her mother into rehab. A few arguments later, Keith allows his parents to take her. The entire season has been exploring David and Keith's relationship as potential parents, making this a clear Aborted Arc, perhaps because it became clear that their relationship was not strong enough yet to sustain a family dynamic.
All Bikers Are Hell's Angels: Averted. The Biker funeral is wild but not dangerous, and the "guest of honor" died on his way to be a mall Santa (in full getup).
All Gays Are Promiscuous: David, Keith, every single character that is attracted to the same gender seem to have no self control over where they put their genitals. Somewhat diluted because this is also true for the straight characters, especially Brenda and Nate, which is not surprising considering how they originally met.
In 2003 the series' official companion Six Feet Under: Better Living Through Death was released. It contains among others the main characters' family trees until season 4, documents from the Fisher kids' childhoods, Nathaniel's letters to Ruth from Vietnam, Claire's and Billy's chat history, excerpts from Charlotte Light and Dark, Nathaniel and Isabel and Brenda's unfinished book and many of Claire's photographs. Plus a fan letter written by 11-year-old David Fisher to Matt Dillon.
The complete series DVD set includes a small booklet with all the main characters' obituaries, providing lots of extra information to complete the epilogue from the series finale.
Anyone Can Die: In a way. The idea that any person can die at any time is a major theme in the show, but at the same time, only two major characters die young in the entire series, and there are only a couple other times important characters even come close to dying.
Russell and Olivier have sex. Russell insists he's not gay (a little too much), but he was dating a girl. Olivier is later seen dating Brenda's mother.
Keith cheerfully mentions to David, "I loved fucking women!" mid-series. A rare example of a true Bi the Way when the person is assumed 100% gay.
Big Brother Instinct: Both Nate and David look out for Claire whenever possible. In return, eventually, Claire starts looking out for them.
Bittersweet Ending: In the distant finale most of the characters appear to have a happy life, except for David and Keith, who is killed on duty in 2029. Death is a logical consequence of life, but watching the on screen deaths of the familiar characters is very heavy hitting no matter if they are old and grey or happy. The return to a young Claire with all the life ahead of her alleviates it somehow.
Black Sheep: Nate. A deconstruction in the sense that life alters his plans and he becomes the prodigal son and a family man without trying, but he is not cut out for this and snaps.
Body of the Week: Every episode begins with a death, and the epitaph faded into the credits in a manner reminiscent of "going into the light" associated with death.
Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: When Lisa dies, Nate remembers her wishes to be buried without embalming or a coffin, out in nature. Nate manages to grant this request, although it means deceiving her family and breaking the law. Incidentally right before he dies Nate expresses his wish to have a similar burial, which his family are much more capable of carrying out.
But Not Too Gay: Probably among the first TV-shows to casually avert it, that is portraying homosexual sex and relations in the same light as straight ones, without making it its central message or theme. It helps that the show's creator is also gay.
Brother Chuck: Played straight with Claire's best friend Parker; Averted with Claire's college friends who appear again in the last season.
Brother-Sister Incest: Brenda has a... bizarre relationship with her brother, who openly states that he is in love with her. There was even a scene where she fantasizes about actually sleeping with him. Ever since Season 1 there was the question of whether they actually did it. It was not confirmed until a later season that they did not.
Bystander Syndrome: In "That's My Dog", David gets carjacked. He suffers terribly and actually doesn't have many opportunities to ask for help because that might get him killed. However, when the psycho lets him go, he's seen going along a road, badly beaten and looking awful. He tries to stop somebody, but all cars just ignore him and keep going. Luckily, a police car appears at the end.
Call Back: A subtle one. In season 2, when Nate discovers that what he has is called AVM, he and Brenda go to the beach. When Brenda goes home and Nate is alone he imagines himself just swimming out to sea (a metaphor for his dying). In season 5, right before Nate flatlines, he and David seem to have this shared dream where he does exactly the same thing, swim out to sea, and the scene is shot the exact same way. The only difference is this time David tells Nate not to be foolish, right before it definitively becomes David's nightmare.
In addition, when Bernard Chenowith dies, Brenda tells Nate it was like he slowly washed out to sea.
Lisa dies by drowning and they find her body washed up on a beach near Santa Cruz.
Camp Gay: David when alone with Keith. He actively represses this around other people, especially in the beginning, and much of his character development is about accepting himself and allowing himself to stop worrying about every little mannerism.
Also Robbie, from the florist.
Character Development: It's jarring to see the Fishers in the early episodes compared to the latest ones.
The Chew Toy: David, from getting kidnapped and beaten to catching an STD from a prostitute.
Cliffhanger : The end of Season 2 with Nate's operation, apparently lethal but then subverted.
Clingy Jealous Girl: Lisa. To be fair, she has a reason to be, as Nate actually loved Brenda (and obviously still loved her) whereas he only married Lisa to please his mother and provide a stable home for the baby.
Club Kid: Played straight with a dance instructor David dates briefly in the early seasons. David tries it out for awhile, which surprises several other characters, and he eventually decides isn't for him. Keith, though without the drugs and apparently without the promiscuity, as he is only ever seen with the man he is dating.
Cool Teacher: Olivier. Arguably a deconstruction, as Olivier does give good advice and tries to get his students to think outside of the box, but he is such a prick and the way he interacts with his students is often totally inappropriate. He eventually straightens out a bit though.
Crazy Jealous Guy: Brenda's brother took this to crazy stalkerish levels over her relationship with Nate, and Russell's behavior bordered on this at Claire's art exhibition at the end of season four. Nate showed a (potentially justified) example of this while stoned, though the situation involved meeting a naked Australian man in Brenda's house and then discovering they were sleeping in the same bed.
Dead Person Conversation: Nathaniel's frequent chats with the Fisher children, and occasionally Ruth. This also happens with the people that the Fisher's are embalming. David in particular seems prone to this in the beginning, when he represses his emotions much more, and has to process his reactions in a more internal way (the conversations with the dead people are a way of presenting internal monologue).
Death of the Hypotenuse: Nathaniel Fisher, Sr. (triangle with Ruth and Hiram); Lisa (triangle with Nate and Brenda); subverted with Nate, whose death ends any possibility of either staying with Brenda or leaving her for Maggie.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Let's just say that the Fisher household is a microwave and the start button was the death of Nathaniel Sr.
Played straight with the Chenowiths. The Díazs have it prevented by the successful Foot Dragging Divorcee variety and George and Ruth have something in between as they remain "social" but do not remarry.
According to Alan Ball, if Nate had lived, he would've eventually come to his senses and stuck with Brenda.
Downer Beginning: The series start with the death of the patriarch of the family, on Christmas eve.
Erotic Asphyxiation: One death-of-the-week occurs as a result of this going awry. The family are doubly bereaved because they think that he deliberately hanged himself.
Everyone Can See It: It's plainly obvious that during the entire time Nate was married to Lisa he still loved Brenda (even though he denied it), and that Brenda still loved him (even though she denied it).
Everyone Has Lots of Sex: Played outlandishly straight. In one episode, Nate's mother literally can't even leave a room for five minutes when having Brenda over for dinner without Nate and Brenda going at it right there.
Possibly a foreshadowing to Brenda's sex addiction.
Executive Meddling: An oddly positive example: During the making of the pilot, the HBO executives commented that the show felt "too safe" and asked Alan Ball (the writer) if he could make it "a little more fucked up". He gladly complied, after he "picked his jaw off the floor".
Eye Scream: The fifth season premiere starts off with an accidental one of these.
Fade to White: A series staple. Used after the death of the week, and to transition between acts and the ending credits
Gaydar: Nate jokes about his, David doesn't like the word.
Gayngst: Played straight in the beginning with David's intense shame over being gay, but eventually subverted as he learns to accept himself, and his relationship with Keith becomes stronger and healthier over time.
Maya, by Brenda. When Nate dies the biologically unrelated Brenda is the only parent she has left, and Brenda takes care of her as if she were her own. It's for this reason that 'What about Maya?' is a conversation Nate and Brenda need to have, as Maya doesn't remember Lisa and thinks of Brenda as her mother.
Hollywood Atheist: Brenda, so very much. She remains outspokenly Atheist throughout the show. It is incidentally one of the things that ends up driving her and Nate apart, as Nate starts attending Quaker church services, which Brenda complains he does just to drive them apart, as he knows very well it's an experience they can't share (The services involve sitting in silence until the parishioners hear messages from God, which to Brenda was basically equivalent to Nate asking her to join him in sitting in silence for however long).
Honest Corporate Executive: The Fishers are very fair with their clients and attempts to overprice are usually frowned upon; there is also a tradition in the family of pro-bono funerals.
Hospital Paradiso: Subverted when Brenda chooses the easier way. In a moment of idealism, Brenda refuses her mother's offers for placement as psychologist in a high-class hospital and chooses to work in a public centre as councillor instead. The people working there are good people and they appreciate Brenda's presence because they're overworked and understaffed. But Brenda can't take the conditions and the cynicism permeating the place and leaves after a day, returning to her mother for the cushy job.
Housewife: Ruth. Subverted, deconstructed, and everything else.
I Am Not My Father: Several of the characters spend considerable time trying to be unlike their parents, only to realise that they are exactly like them.
Nate refuses to join the family business and moved away when he was seventeen. After Nathaniel Sr died he came back and reluctantly co-ran the business with David.
Brenda resented her parents and therapists in general and so became a shiatsu masseuse to avoid following in their foot-steps. Eventually when she decides to get her life together she ironically trains to become a therapist.
Keith fights the violent rage inside him because he knows that if he gives into it he will become just like his abusive father. Unlike most of the others, he does eventually overcome it and grows into his role as father for his adopted children.
Claire is fearful of becoming exactly like Ruth instead of following her dreams. Incidentally Ruth, who claims to see herself in Claire, has a vested interest in not allowing Claire to throw away her life the same way that she did.
Claire's boyfriend Ted is a notable aversion. Instead of trying to deny that he's just like his father, he actively tries to become him.
Imagine Spot: Used constantly, to the point the audience gets to second-guess the writers and occasional subversions of the trope are very effective and shocking. The characters frequently indulge in socially awkward thoughts or desires.
In SPACE: Lampshaded with "Nathaniel and Isabel: In Space!"
Nate and Brenda get interrupted twice, first by Nate's mother, then Brenda's brother. Later, after they get married and try to conceive a baby, they get interrupted by Maya, who thinks they're just jumping up and down.
Federico thinks Vanessa is having an affair so he walks in to Ramón, trying to surprise them. it turns out his cousin Ramón is having sex with another man. Federico flips out.
Intoxication Ensues: First Ruth and later Nate unintentionally get high on some ecstasy that David hid in an Aspirin bottle.
Irony: In Season Two, Ruth (having found out that David is gay and trying to deal with it in a healthy and understanding manner) tells Claire that if she has any homosexual feelings at all she shouldn't be afraid to express them. Claire denies feeling any attraction to women. In season 4 she eventually forms an attraction to Edie, one of her friends from Art School, although it doesn't take.
In the beginning, David sees Nathaniel Sr in a vision telling him that the name of the funeral home is 'Fisher & Sons', how that has to continue and how David will never have any sons. By the end Nate's the one who doesn't have any sons (he has two daughters), David and Keith offer to buy out Brenda's share (which means neither she nor Nate's daughters own a part of the business any more) and it's David's son Durrell that ends up learning the family trade
During his eulogy Federico talks about how Nate was excellent at dealing with the bereaved, that he knew exactly what to say to comfort them, and then hit on the irony that, if he were actually alive, he'd know just what to say to comfort them all.
Ironic Echo: Watch the last few episodes of the Fishers mourning after Nate's death. Then watch the first few episodes after Nathaniel's death. Familiar, but different, wouldn't you say?
It's Always Sunny at Funerals: Funerals almost invariably occur on beautiful, sunny days, since this is, after all, LA. Of note is Bernard Chenowith's funeral, which was held outside at the exact same place that Nate and Brenda had planned to be married the first time.
Jerkass: Most of the characters try to be decent human beings but still have their dark moments.
Federico is a bit pushy, and (initially at least) a homophobe.
Brenda and her mother tend to be uppity, condescending and self-centered.
Nate tries to be an amiable and empathic Nice Guy but eventually Took a Level in Jerkass ensues, he gets tired of doing what others expect him to and goes back to his more narcissist tendencies, moments before he dies the last thing he ever says to his wife is they are done, beyond repair . Can also be seen as Fallen Hero, Nate started out as The Everyman but by the end of the series he became the least likeable member of the main cast. Everyone changed for the better by the end, but Nate returns to his old The Casanova ways after the family man role doesn't work for him. He probably does so because of Lisa, whose death shook him irreparably.
Law of Inverse Fertility: Nate's first child ensues under inappropriate circumstances from a single infidelity, and is unplanned, the second one takes a lot of time and effort.
Lady Drunk: Margaret Chenowith. Rarely does one see her without a drink in her hand.
Megacorp: Kroner, the commercial funeral home from the early seasons.
Mistaken for Cheating: Played with. Federico has a foolhardy and odd affair with a stripper, but the relationship is not sexual after the first contact, and she takes advantage of him. Federico's wife discovers the relationship and naturally assumes it's sexual (she reasons that he spent too much money not to be getting any on the side). After Rico is thrown out of the house, actual sex ensues and Federico tries to move with the stripper, but he is unwelcome.
The Missus and the Ex: Brenda and Lisa don't get along well, they feel uneasy and overshadowed by the other, and Brenda is haunted by Lisa's memory after Lisa's death, a void impossible to fill in Nate's life.
Mushroom Samba: Ruth's experience in the woods when she took ecstasy by mistake. She sees many bizzare things like a huge teddy bear or lots of colorful lights, and eventually she had a conversation with her dead husband.
Nate, before Lisa disappears only to be found dead weeks later.
Ruth, when Nate dies while she is away camping.
Brenda. Nate, just before he died, told her he wanted a divorce. They never got the chance to work things out. Brenda's supervisor, tired of her whining, specifically told her exactly how she should work through their problems and Nate's sudden death meant that she never got to act on that advice.
The driving force for much of the angst in the first few episodes after Nathaniel, Sr. dies. It's particularly bad for Nate, who hadn't seen him in a month, and then only a few times a year before that.
Nice Guy: Claire briefly dates a nice boy named Toby. Caire and Toby promptly break up when he criticizes Claire's attitude, thinking she's too cynical and mistaken in believeing that her life sucks. Lampshaded when Brenda comments how nice he is (and how he differs from her usual boyfriend type of Troubled, but Cute).
Brenda: Toby seems nice.
Claire:[sarcastic] Yes, Toby is very nice.
Brenda: Not your type, huh?
Claire: A deranged psychopath? No, I guess he's not.
No Antagonist: After the Krohener arc. The business seems to be doing fine, the show becomes far more character oriented.
No Medication for Me: Whenever an episode needs more drama, Billy will sometimes go through extreme examples of this trope.
Federico can't stand his sister in-law, who overstays her welcome in the house. The contempt is mutual. When Vanessa finally tells her to leave, she blames Rico but he's so happy she's leaving that he doesn't care.
Ruth didn't care much for Brenda (either because they were basically opposites or because Brenda was emptying her house so soon after Nathaniel died), but basically never tried to keep her and Nate apart, instead dealing with her displeasure almost passive-aggressively. Eventually after Nate dies they patch things up as Ruth insists that Brenda is going to need her to take care of and help raise her two granddaughters.
Once an Episode: Every episode begins with the Death of the Week except on three occasions: The third-to-last episode, which continues on the death that occurred at the end of the previous episode; an earlier episode where the lack of deaths is something of a plot point; and the finale, which begins with a birth.
One Steve Limit: Averted, seeing as there are two characters named Nathaniel: Nathaniel Fisher Senior and Nathaniel Fisher Junior. Though it doesn't really matter seeing as Jr. is usually referred to as 'Nate'. A third Nathaniel is the character from the Book Within A ShowNathaniel and Isabel. Shortly after meeting Brenda, Nate gets a bit freaked out by the tattoo of his name on her back. (It actually refers to Billy, because the two siblings could identify very well with the book characters.)
Nathaniel Fisher, Senior. Subverted since his kids had no idea how open-minded he was. The only version of Nathaniel we ever see are hallucinations of what the characters think he'd say in the situation
Brenda's parents are open-minded to a fault.
David had one date with a guy who boasted with his great parents who have never been anything but supportive of him and his coming out. David is envious.
Porn Stash: When Keith and David's adopted sons find their porn, they decide to toss the whole collection of it away. It's enormous, taking up several full garbage bags. The two of them begin arguing at the dumpster about which titles are too good to throw away.
Pro Bono Barter: Nathaniel Fisher Sr., being sympathetic to low-income clients, was willing to accept a lifetime supply of marijuana from one client as payment for services, and use of a private room above a restaurant from another.
Proscenium Reveal: "In the Game" opens with a young girl home alone when a slasher-killer breaks into her house. The girl screams...then cut to inside a movie theater where we realize it's only from a horror movie that is playing.
Replacement Scrappy: Invoked. George, for Nathaniel. The Fisher children are taken aback that Ruth would marry George six weeks after having met him and they don't warm to him. Nate in particular tells him that no matter how much he tries, he'll never be his father. The Fisher children do eventually become accustomed to him somewhat, and George is there with David and Claire on Ruth's death bed.
Billy creates one deliberately for Nate's benefit after Brenda demands that he return his key to her house. ( Brenda did this because when she and Nate went on a 'romantic' weekend to Las Vegas, he broke into their hotel room while they were sleeping and took photographs of them in bed.)
George made one after his dormant mental illness reared its head and he became convinced the apocalypse was coming. He moved into the Fisher family's bomb shelter, and there are later scenes of him in it with the walls covered in papers and magazine pages, pacing and talking to himself.
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Not spoken, but implied by the fact that no one brings up the legal implications of Kroehner's bully tactics against Fisher & Sons, which would most likely run afoul of U.S. antitrust laws. In fact, when Kroehner go bankrupt David mentions they were being federally investigated, but he never mentioned what for.
Shotgun Wedding: Nathaniel Fisher, father and son. In the case of the son, the unplanned child and subsequent marriage derails his life as he half-heartedly commits to doing what is expected of him instead of doing what he feels in his heart (as he had previously done).
Nate and David, initially. They are eventually able to work past their issues and develop a healthy relationship.
Ruth has a one-sided rivalry/resentment of her sister Sarah. Their relationship is basically the same as David and Nate's, Ruth resents her sister for being free-spirited and doing whatever it is that she wanted, whilst Ruth had to give up her life to look after their legless grandmother. Sarah eventually reveals that she envies Ruth for having three children, whereas she was unable to have any. Like Nate and David, they eventually patch things up and become rather close.
Start My Own: In the final three episodes, Rico toys with the idea of selling his share of Fisher & Diaz to start his own funeral home. Initially David can't buy him out and refuses to put the house on the marketnote Well, to be more specific he puts the house on the market and then takes it off when he decides he can't just sell his family home. However, Keith then offers up his own money which allows them to buy out Rico so he can start his own funeral home.
Straight Gay: Keith is so straight that he occasionally has sex with girls...but apparently that doesn't make him bi.
Suddenly Sexuality: Claire had a brief relationship with a lesbian, but realized her attraction was aesthetic, not sexual, and ended the relationship. The woman in question felt Claire was grossed out by her vagina, which Claire denied.
Anita: Because you were a lesbian for about two whole minutes. And then suddenly, you weren't. On top of that, she said you got all, like, grossed out by her pussy. That's totally not cool. Claire : "Okay, for the record, I was not grossed out by her pussy. Okay, pussy, per se, does not gross me out. I just didn't know what exactly to do with it. It wasn't personal; it just didn't do it for me, you know?" Anita: "I'll pass that along."
Take Back Your Gift: Lampshaded. During an argument with Brenda, Nate takes his engagement ring off. She is upset.
Brenda: (tearfully) Don't you throw that ring at me. It's such a cliché, I'll barf. (Nate throws it)) Brenda: There. Barf.
Claire: Who do you think plays Parker in the movie of her life? Sandy Bullock or Julia Roberts?
Boy: Oh, please, she'd never rate that high. She'd get like one of those Buffy or Dawson's Creek chicks, top.
Trevor (Brenda's high school boyfriend)'s wife mentions being on a panel show with Kobe Bryant, that emaciated chicknote Lara Flynn Boyle from The Practice and some twelve-year old rappernote Lil Bow Wow.
There Are No Therapists: Inverted, there are too many, and the characters complain several times about therapy being the answer for everything. Brenda was a psychiatrists' guinea-pig during her childhood, and loathes the upbringing received from her parents, who are both shrinks. Ironically when Rico's wife is suffering from depression she goes to a doctor to get medication instead of actually going to talk to someone.
The Teaser: Every episode begins with the death of a person - some kind of tasteful discretion shot is often used - and then a card displays the name and birth and death dates of the deceased.
True Art Is Angsty: In-universe, averted with everyone but Claire. Claire attains some moderate artistic success with a more upbeat portfolio, but keeps trying to pitch her own work, which is all gloomy shots of gravestones. No one is interested.
In the season three premiere, Nate is in surgery. Cut to death title card: Nathaniel Samuel Fisher Jr. 1965-2002.
At the end of episode 9, Season 5 David takes a nap, when he wakes up, Nate has flatlined. Death title card: Nathaniel Samuel Fisher Jr. 1965-2005
What the Hell, Hero?: Near the beginning of Season 5, Ruth buys George his own place and convinces him that they're moving out together as an effort to get him back on his feet so that she can dump him. Granted, George was suffocating her and hiding his mental illness from her was wrong, but as George points out, if Ruth wanted out, all she had to do was say so, she didn't have to string him along.