Six Inches Under

An interesting critique of Alan Ball and Six Feet Under from critic Dale Peck who, among other things, finds it too painful to watch the characters’ stupid choices:

“The most common criticism of the show is that such high jinks are a little too reminiscent of soap-opera plotting. The critics are right, of course, but before one acknowledges that, one should also acknowledge the fact that the characters on Six Feet Under are what pollsters call “self-selecting”; in this case, a peer group of incredibly destructive people who create most of the drama in their lives. Mr. Ball’s characters choose among potential acquaintances and mates the same way doomed heroines choose between the ax and the flashlight in horror movies: They pick up the flashlight every time, so they can shine it in the face of death as it swoops down on them. This is an expression of the form, but it’s also an expression of Thanatos, by which I mean that, yes, it’s big and Greek and a little silly, but you don’t get to have one without the other. In fact, the heroine doesn’t really choose the flashlight over the ax—vision over protection, knowledge over life. Rather, death chooses her, as it eventually chooses all of us. This is the core of Six Feet Under, clumsily driven home by the high-concept funeral-home setup, yet delicately, empathically reinforced by the continued suffering of its characters. If the show is often mawkish—especially in the more outré kill scenes, which seem culled from horror movies—it also often achieves a Weltschmerz you won’t find anywhere else on TV. By which I mean that I got mad at American Beauty because it is, ultimately, a stupid story; but I get mad at the characters on Six Feet Under because they make stupid choices. And even though I know it’ll never happen, I still hope they make the right choice at some point.” (New York Observer)

But his real pain is reserved for the depiction of homosexuality and the controversial third episode of this season in which David is the victim of a heinous crime. Peck both finds the violence gratuitous and opines that Six Feet Under consistently treats gay desire as acting-out and something to be punished for. All I can say, as a viewer who finds the character development on this show to be some of the most sophisticated ever on television, is that this is an incredible demonstration of Peck’s selective attention in order to spin a yarn.