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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Drama at the funeral parlour
Lauren Ambrose, Petere Krause, Frances Conroy and Michael C Hall as the Fisher family
The Fisher family run a funeral business

British television does not make programmes like the new US drama Six Feet Under but to be fair, neither does mainstream American television.

For Six Feet Under is another commission by HBO, the US cable network that is able to flout America's strict standards and practices because it is a subscription service and generally only adults can watch.

This led to superb series such as Sex and the City and The Sopranos, both of which have become national, critical hits in America and of which Six Feet Under is the natural successor.

Re-hearse jokes

It is set in a funeral business - much as BBC Choice's limp Fun at the Funeral Parlour is - but it sets out to be a ragged mix of deep drama and high laughs as Ally McBeal-like fantasy sequences judder next to emotionally draining scenes.

Fredddy Rodriquez as Federico Diaz at the funeral parlour
The show mocks the characters
Creator and writer Alan Ball is best known for his Oscar-winning American Beauty screenplay but he started his career writing for sitcoms such as Grace Under Fire and Cybill and this new project feels like a hybrid of all of those.

It has the expensive and gorgeously-filmed look of American Beauty.

And like that film it presents characters who are strange yet instead of being outlandish they somehow seem more real for their exaggerations.

Its key trick is a sitcom-like way of inverting situations and confounding what, trained by so many other dramas, you expect characters to say and do.

As the family that runs this funeral parlour has to cope with the death of their own father, we get scenes that alternately mock the characters and reveal deeper issues with them.

So the son who got away, Nate, (Peter Krause) is back not as the carefree success he appears but a man recognising that he is on the verge of wasting his life.

And the son who stayed, David, (Michael C Hall) is not the man working to take over his father's business, but he feels that his life has been ruined.


It can be repetitive, though, as periodically it features over-cheery television advertisements for products needed by funeral parlours, ranging from hearses to a gel-like substance called "wound filler".

The jokes do their job of heightening the drama well

Each is funny and relevant to what is happening at that moment yet they are also a little tiresome.

Similarly, Nate's girlfriend Brenda is very well played by Rachel Griffiths but her role seems to be a fantasy sounding-board, a mysterious woman with whom Nate can discuss his problems.

We have had blunt hints that there is more to her than that, so hopefully she will develop.

In America, she has: the show is in its third season and is a considerable hit.

Somehow the balance of great drama with laughs combined with those adverts feels uneven, but the jokes do their job of heightening the drama well.

Six Feet Under is on Channel 4 on Monday evenings at 23.10

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