Don't get me wrong -- even the fourth season (and don't kill me, but probably my favorite) has had it's share of wonderful comedic moments. In fact, the series never once lost it's slightly absurd comical center, even at it's most depressing and dark.
But the "Pilot" episode now almost seems like a TV version of "American Beauty" with a different plot: funny, twisted, sometimes slightly and sometimes completely serious, surreal, etc.
I just watched it for probably the third time last night, and it struck me how different it was compared to, say, "Everyone's Waiting," the series finale. But not in a bad way or anything.
Before I get into the plot, let me just say that the funeral product commercials -- blah. Funny the first time, but after that, no, not really. It kind of disrupts the episode for me. I know that season one purists think it's a good thing, as in "that was a really depressing scene... maybe there should be something funny IMMEDIATELY afterwards to offset the mood," but I like the flow of the show from episode two on a lot more.
One thing I won't deny is the magic quality of the first season. While funny a lot of the time, it was never goofy or stupid, and it had a sharp wit like no other show. Even if I think my favorite era of "Six Feet Under" just ended, season one by far had the best mixture of comedy and drama.
"Pilot" begins on a sunny, apparently warm Christmas Eve in Los Angeles. Nathaniel Fisher Sr. is driving a new hearse he bought for his family's funeral home business (which is aptly titled "Fisher and Sons Funeral Home"). In a rather funny -- not depressing, but actually funny moment -- Ruth, his wife, tells him that smoking will kill him while they talk via his cell phone. "I'm quittin' right now," Nathaniel smugly says, throwing his cigarette out the window. After hanging up with a spunky Ruth, he has a moment of peace with himself, smiling. And then he does the inevitable.
Noticing his pack of cigarettes on the passenger seat, he reaches down for one. Doing so cost him his life, as his lack of judgement while driving had a bus run full speed into the side of his newly bought hearse. Nicely directed scene there.
Meanwhile, his daughter Claire is with her new boyfriend Gabe (whom we don't know much about yet). Sitting in a room full of druggies, she smokes some crystal meth. It's not crack, Gabe assures her, it's crystal! Which means it's fine!
His son Nate arrives at an airport ready to be picked up by his dad. He's only planning to stay a few days for Christmas.
We see him just after he's befriended a woman he has yet to learn to the name of. She's beautiful, slightly feminist, slightly sexual, and seemingly very independant. Apparently a big turn on for Nate.
They talked about some pretentious psycho-babble on the plane, and he thanks her for the time. After noticing that his father is nowhere around, he sullenly says that he needs a ride.
"I'll give you a ride," his new friend says. Yeah, you know which kind.
His other son, David, a closeted homosexual, has stayed with the family business. He conceals his emotions of anger and guilt -- anger because his brother Nate left him alone with the business, and guilt because he's gay -- nearly all the time.
Side note: the thing that pulled me in about the series in the first place was David. He's brilliantly played by Michael C. Hall, and I could emphasize with him because I was in the same position too. Oh, not that I have to overtake a funeral business or anything. No. But I was also in the closet. The pain and humiliation and heartache and everything he goes through is surprisingly real -- surprising because every other show that wants to tackle the "issue" has a way of treating it like tabloid trash or something. "Queer as Folk" is good in this respect, too, but "Six Feet Under" always treated it with more class, and did it much better than anything else out there (even film).
David is sitting in the kitchen as Ruth makes her pot roast, reading a newspaper and being calm and bottled up like he thinks he should be.
Ruth recieves the call very shortly, but reacts in a slightly humourous way. In fact, I never knew whether to laugh or feel bad in this scene:
After hearing the news over the phone and shouting a very Ruth-esque (yes, that's my own made up lingo) "WHAT?!" , she throws down the phone and begins tearing apart the kitchen while shouting on top of her lungs. Repeated short screams accompany pots and pans bouncing off the floor, and she even throws her pot roast too.
Somewhat embarrassing is the fact that there's a viewing going on at the same time, and everyone hears the ruckus. David is noticably embarrassed, and asks if he may leave for a second.
"There's been an accident," Ruth tells David, while sitting on the floor, hair a mess. "Your father's dead."
David obviously does not know what to say.
"Your father's dead and my pot roast is ruined."
One by one, the other Fisher siblings find out that he's dead. With Nate, it's after he's done screwing his new acquantince in an airport lobby closet.
With Claire, it's just after she smoked some cra-- er, crystal.
And the way Alan Ball brings them together is at once funny and real. In fact, the one thing that struck me the most in this episode was how REAL it was. It reminded me of my family, albeit no dead dad and no smoking of crystal. Er, and no screwing women in airport lobby closets. And no funeral home. Yeah.
It's just the way they talk -- very normal, very real, relaxed, what have you. And always interesting, which makes for a good television show.
Nate eventually finds out his new girlfriend's name. It's Brenda. She also has a messed up family and is always willing to talk about it, much to Nate's chagrin.
We see our first glimpse of Billy, Brenda's brother, in an amusing way -- sobbing like a sissy while looking for something to eat in their nice looking kitchen. He just walks around, looking through the fridge, sobbing. Brenda doesn't react, she just asks if he wants an olive. He looks at the olive on her hand and instead takes the whole package of them from her other.
Keith also makes a nice entrance. We begin with David and Keith already a couple, but since he's in the closet they can't really "be together" publically.
One of my favorite moments in the episode occurs when a somewhat sobered up Claire notices David trying to act "straight" around Keith, after pulling his arm away from his face. It's so cute, and her facial expression is at once caring and amused. I love her character.
Claire also has a notable number of funny scenes in this episode, most of them when she's high "on crystal!" than when she's sober.
For example, Nate takes her to the grocery so they can leave the house for a moment. After having a millisecond of peace to himself, Claire wants to go.
We see one of the first of MANY Nate shouting-complaint-things, and to show her frustration both at his reaction and the whole damn situation, she picks up a grapefruit and throws it to the floor, making a wimpy thud.
She then proceeds to hug Nate, which is a very sincere and tender moment. Of course, though, all such things come to an end, and in this case really soon -- a grocery worker walks up to her and says "You're going to have to pay for that."
BAM! Claire reacts suddenly and viciously with a "why don't you just f*** off?!" Heh.
We also meet Rico, who even utters a "wuzzup!" to Nate after seeing him for the first time in awhile. Funny.
Even though all of his scenes in the pilot are great, one of note is when he talks about a wonderful restoration he did on this couple who had gun wounds in their heads. He shows the before and after pictures to Nate, and it looks like he did a really good job.
After excitedely explaining everything to him, his face is sudddenly stricken with anger.
"And then we cremated them. What a f****** waste."
At the funeral of the Nathaniel, Ruth lets her two sons know of a terrible secret she's been hiding. "I'm not fine, I'm a whore!" She met a hairdresser named Hiram and has been sleeping with him for awhile. And now "he knows" -- Nathaniel knows that she cheated on him, and she feels tremendous guilt over it.
Nate has been hinting that funerals are too clean, too "business," which is true. To show his grief over his dead dad, he'd rather take his bare hands and throw dirt on the coffin, not use some "stupid salt shaker" (snicker snicker). Ruth follows suit, and gets on her hands and her knees and begins violently sobbing. She picks up dirt with her hands and throws it on the coffin several times, her hat falling off and everything. It's a very beautiful scene.
David's uptight assumptions of what a funeral should be clash with Nate's, and he eventually reveals his anger at how Nate left him behind with a business he obviously does not want to be part of.
Later, David goes to Keith's apartment and they share a moment together finally.
"Pilot" is great Six Feet Under, well written and consistently entertaining. I don't think it's the best episode ever, but a lot of other people do. I can understand why. It's continous wit and cleverness is absorbing.
However, the best is only yet to come. There are a few first season episodes that are better than this one, in my opinion. Even still, "Pilot" is a fine way to start off a near-perfect series, and stands as one of the best pilot episodes ever.