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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under

Death comes close to home for a family of funeral directors in the American TV hit.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)


MARK LAWSON:
There is a general view that American TV drama is about 100 feet above what goes on in Britain. Is this?

JOHN CAREY:
The strength of this is in the characterisation, particularly the two brothers, who are very opposed, and the mother. They are strong because they are full of contradictions. This comes out in what they say.

The mother sitting on the kitchen floor howling, saying, "Your father is dead and my pot roast is ruined." And at the wake, she says how she has had a long affair with a hairdresser she met at the church bazaar.

It's very funny because it's what she might do under pressure, and their embarrassment is comic.

MARK LAWSON:
There comes a point when it's almost a new formula now, that you have this American family, and every one of them is then revealed to have a secret, and you just rather hope that one of them might not have a secret, I thought.

BONNIE GREER:
It's interesting. I was thinking, why does American TV work, or why do we think it works?

It's partly because America is a land of archetypes, and one is the family. The Simpsons, the Sopranos and now the Fisher family. You do variations on a theme.

I thought the first one is better than the second one. The first one is by the creator himself. The second one just settles into a soap opera. But it's essentially quite conservative, and I really got it within the first 30 minutes of it.

You sort of want to be surprised by it actually being about nothing happening, but it's rooted in a '50s notion of America, which all American sitcom is, at the end of the day.

MIRANDA SAWYER:
It's also exactly like American Beauty. It's the same characters. You have a man having a mid-life crisis, a freaked-out teenager, a control-freak mother who's having an affair and a closet gay.

I just think, could you not have invented some new people? It's very chilly at its heart. Everything is played for comic effect. If you think about The Sopranos, which obviously covers far more violence and a horrible family, it's much more warm and believable. Everything is played in this for comic effect.

JOHN CAREY:
No, it's not true, is it? At the end, at the grave side of the father, one of the brothers sees through all the cosmetic side of it, and picks up clods of earth, hurling them at the coffin. That actually is not meant to be funny. The grief breaks through the ritual.

MARK LAWSON:
One genuinely brave thing, I thought, is that it's setting itself against commercial TV. It does that by having spoof commercials at the end of each section.

VT CLIP FROM "SIX FEET UNDER"

MARK LAWSON:
One of the spoof commercials. I thought that was where it really took off, because those are brave, given that, in a lot of countries, including here, they will be going to real commercials.

BONNIE GREER:
Yes, that's not so brave as interesting. American TV succeeds because it accepts that TV is mass entertainment.

You have got to constantly stay in front of your audience, anticipate what they are thinking, but it still settles down. That's what I agree with Miranda on - it settles down into a kind of conformity.

MARK LAWSON:
They are all about families who, despite everything, really love each other.

BONNIE GREER:
It's a very conservative centre. It's about the nuclear family. Daddy is here or not, but there's always Daddy. And this is a dead dad who comes back.

MARK LAWSON:
One thing that shocked me - the great claim is always made that the dialogue is fantastic. It was terrible dialogue.

You have a woman saying, "I want a man to touch me like that again." Ancient cliches.

BONNIE GREER:
American television just believes that people actually don't read - that's the problem - and that there is an ending to every bit of dialogue, whereas in Britain and Europe there isn't that sort of feeling about it.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Panel
24 May 02 | Panel
24 May 02 | Panel
02 May 02 | Panel
Links to more Review stories are at the foot of the page.


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