six feet under

Six Feet Under (TV series)

Six Feet Under is an American television drama created by Alan Ball that was originally broadcast from 2001 to 2005. It was produced by Alan Ball, Alan Poul, Robert Greenblatt and David Janollari. The series centers on Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, a family-run mortuary, and explores the lives of the Fisher family following the death of the family patriarch. It is set in modern-day Los Angeles. The title is a colloquialism for death, six feet (1.83 metres) being the traditional depth at which a corpse is buried.

Six Feet Under was produced by Actual Size Films and The Greenblatt/Janollari Studio. It first aired on HBO in 2001, and has been broadcast in syndication in the US by basic cable channel Bravo as well as in dozens of other countries. The series ended its five year run on August 21, 2005.

The show received critical acclaim from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times, among other media, and has garnered praise from fellow television producers and funeral directors, with many considering it to be one of the best dramas ever made for television. In total, Six Feet Under won three Golden Globe Awards and nine Emmy Awards, as well as a Peabody Award. The series won the Golden Globe award for Outstanding Drama Series and Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Griffiths in 2002. Frances Conroy went on to receive the award for Best Actress in a Drama for the Golden Globes in 2004. The show also won the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble for a Drama Series two years in a row (2003–2004).


The show stars Peter Krause as Nathaniel Samuel ("Nate") Fisher Jr., the son of a funeral director who, upon the death of his father (Richard Jenkins), reluctantly becomes a partner in the family funeral business with his brother David, played by Michael C. Hall. The Fisher clan also includes mother Ruth (Frances Conroy) and sister Claire (Lauren Ambrose). Other regulars include mortician and family friend Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez), Nate's on-again, off-again girlfriend Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths), and David's boyfriend Keith Charles (Mathew St. Patrick).

On one level, the show is a conventional family drama, dealing with such issues as relationships, infidelity, and religion. At the same time, it is a show distinguished by its unblinking focus on the topic of death, which it explores on multiple levels (personal, religious, and philosophical). Each episode begins with a death — anything from drowning or heart attack to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome — and that death usually sets the tone for each episode, allowing the characters to reflect on their current fortunes and misfortunes in a way that is illuminated by the death and its aftermath. The show also has a strong dosage of dark humor and surrealism running throughout.

A recurring plot device consists of a character having an imaginary conversation with the person who died at the beginning of the episode. Sometimes, the conversation is with other recurring dead characters, notably Nathaniel Fisher Sr. The show's creator Alan Ball states they represent the living character's internal dialogue by exposing it as an external conversation, yet on some occasions (see the appearance of Nathaniel Fisher Sr. at the end of the last episode of the first season) no living character sees or interacts with the dead character. Also, on many occasions the dead characters relate information the living ones could not know, perhaps representing speculation on the part of the living concerning issues which were never solved before the passing. Casual conversations with the dead also reflect the genre of magical realism.


Although overall plots and characters were created by Alan Ball, there are conflicting reports on how the series was conceived. In one instance, Ball stated that he came up with the premise of the show after the deaths of his sister and father. However, in an interview, he intimates that HBO entertainment president Carolyn Strauss proposed the idea to him. In a copyright-infringement lawsuit, screenwriter Gwen O’Donnell asserted that she was the original source of the idea which later passed through Strauss to Ball; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, proceeding on the assumption that this assertion was true, rejected her claim.

Major themes

The show focuses on human mortality and the lives of those who deal with it on a daily basis. When discussing the concept of the show, creator Alan Ball elaborates on the foremost questions the show’s pilot targeted:

Who are these people who are funeral directors that we hire to face death for us? What does that do to their own lives - to grow up in a home where there are dead bodies in the basement, to be a child and walk in on your father with a body lying on a table opened up and him working on it? What does that do to you?

Six Feet Under introduces the Fisher family as the basis on which to answer these questions. Throughout its five-season, 63-episode run, major characters experience crises which are in direct relation to their environment and the grief they’ve experienced. Alan Ball again relates these experiences as well as the choice of the series’ title, to the persistent subtext of the program:

Six Feet Under refers not only to being buried as a dead body is buried, but to primal emotions and feelings running under the surface. And when one is surrounded by death it seems like to counterbalance that, there needs to be a certain intensity of experience, of needing to escape. It’s Nate with his sort of womanizing; it’s Claire and her experimenting with dangerous boys and dangerous drugs; and it’s Brenda’s whole sexual compulsiveness; it’s David having sex with a hooker in public; it’s Ruth having affair after affair; it’s the life force trying to push up through all of that suffering and grief and depression.

Character histories and cast

Main Characters
Actor Character Relationship
Peter Krause Nathaniel Samuel "Nate" Fisher Jr. Eldest son of Ruth and Nathaniel; co-operator of Fisher & Diaz; husband to Brenda Chenowith; widower to Lisa Kimmel; father of Maya Fisher (to Lisa) and Willa Chenowith (to Brenda). Dies in 2005 at the age of 40 due to a pre-existing condition known as AVM with David at his side.
Michael C. Hall David James Fisher Middle child of Ruth and Nathaniel; co-operator of Fisher & Diaz; husband (later widower) of Keith Charles; adopted father to Durrell and Anthony. Dies in 2044 at age 75 at a picnic in Echo Park.
Frances Conroy Ruth Fisher Matriarch of Fisher family; former wife/lifelong partner to George Sibley and widow to Nathaniel; mother to Nate, David and Claire. Dies in 2025 at age 79 in a hospital surrounded by Claire, David and George.
Lauren Ambrose Claire Simone Fisher Youngest child of Ruth and Nathaniel; artist of the family who worked temporarily as a secretary. The final montage of the show, and her obituary on HBO's website, suggest that she became a successful photographer and teacher. Wife, then widow, of Ted Fairwell. Dies at age 102 in 2085.
Freddy Rodriguez Federico Diaz Business partner and embalmer at Fisher & Diaz with Nate and David; husband of Vanessa; father to Julio and Augusto. He first started as an employee at Fisher and Sons later he became Founder of Diaz Family Mortuary in 2005. Dies at age 75 in 2049 on a cruise ship with Vanessa (suggested heart attack). He appeared in 62 episodes, missing one episode of the first season, Life's Too Short, due to Federico's storyline.
Mathew St. Patrick Keith Charles Former Los Angeles police officer now in private security; Founded the Charles Security Company; husband of David; adopted father to Anthony and Durrell. Gunned down in 2029 at age 61 by a gang of robbers as he unloads an armored truck (of the business he owned).
Jeremy Sisto Billy Chenowith Brenda’s younger brother who has bipolar disorder; son of Margaret and Bernard Chenowith; had an on-off romantic relationship with Claire Fisher.
Justina Machado Vanessa Diaz Registered nurse; former employee at Bay Breeze Nursing Home in Sherman Oaks. Wife and high school sweetheart of Federico; mother to Julio and Augusto.
James Cromwell George Sibley Geologist/professor; second husband to Ruth; father to Brian, Maggie and Kyle. George suffers from an undiagnosed paranoia which prompts him to receive electro-convulsive shock treatment.
Rachel Griffiths Brenda Chenowith Daughter of Margaret and Bernard Chenowith; sister of Billy. Former shiatsu practitioner; then a cognitive therapist. Girlfriend, then wife, then widow of Nate Fisher. Wife to Daniel Nathanson (she is shown sitting with him in the finale's final montage, though he never speaks). Mother to Willa Fisher Chenowith and stepmother to Maya Fisher also mother to Forrest Nathanson. Dies in 2051 at age 82. She didn't appear in three episodes of the third season due to Griffiths' 2002 pregnancy. Rachel Griffiths' second pregnancy in 2004 was written into the show.

Supporting Characters
Actor Character Relationship
Richard Jenkins Nathaniel Samuel Fisher Sr. Patriarch of Fisher family and owner of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home before his death in a car accident in 2000. Husband of Ruth; father of Nate, David and Claire.
Patricia Clarkson Sarah O’Connor Younger sister of Ruth Fisher, an artist who lives in Topanga Canyon.
Kathy Bates Bettina Sarah’s friend and caretaker who becomes Ruth’s friend when Sarah undergoes withdrawal and further drug rehabilitation.
Lili Taylor Lisa Kimmel Fisher Nate’s former girlfriend and roommate while living in Seattle; she subsequently becomes pregnant with Nate's child Maya, and they marry in 2002. In 2003, she disappears while enroute to visit her sister, and her body later washes up on shore. Eventually it is revealed she was engaged in an affair with her brother-in-law. He commits suicide, and it is suspected but never proven that he murdered Lisa.
Joanna Cassidy Margaret Chenowith Psychologist mother of Brenda and Billy; widow of Bernard; current lover to Olivier Castro-Staal.
Robert Foxworth Dr. Bernard Chenowith Brenda and Billy’s psychiatrist father; husband to Margaret before his death in 2003.
Peter Macdissi Olivier Castro-Staal Professor of Form and Space at LAC-Arts; lover to Margaret Chenowith. Aspects of this character may be based on Nathan Oliveira.
Rainn Wilson Arthur Martin A young intern from Cypress College mortuary school who works for the funeral home briefly.
Ben Foster Russell Corwin Former boyfriend and classmate of Claire.
Mena Suvari Edie Free spirited lesbian artist and good friend of Claire. They shared a hesitant, non-consummated night together with Claire realising she wasn't a lesbian immediately afterwards.
Sprague Grayden Anita Miller Former best friend and roommate of Claire Fisher; ex-girlfriend of Russell Corwin.
Marina Black Parker McKenna Best friend of Claire Fisher during her high school years.
Eric Balfour Gabriel Dimas Claire’s high school boyfriend who was a drug addict and robbed a convenience store. It is assumed he died a short while after he disappears.
Ed O'Ross Nikolai Owner of Blossom d’Amour Flower Shop; boyfriend of Ruth Fisher when she worked as a florist.
Chris Messina Ted Fairwell Corporate attorney at Braeden Chemical Legal Department who becomes Claire's boyfriend when she is assigned as a secretary through her temp job (temporary employee). Marries Claire shortly after her mother's death.
Kendre Berry Durrell Charles-Fisher Adopted older son of David and Keith; older brother of Anthony. He plans on working as a firefighter but later becomes a funeral director like his father.
C. J. Sanders Anthony Charles-Fisher Adopted younger son of David and Keith; brother of Durrell. Seen in the flash forward during the final minutes as an adult in the company of a male partner.
Brenna and Bronwyn Tosh Maya Fisher Nate and Lisa’s toddler daughter.

Recurring cast

Significant guest stars

Family tree


Season promotionals

The following songs were played during the teaser trailers for the seasons following the first:

Episode recaps

The song played during each episode recap is a 1995 single called "Nothing Lies Still Long" by Pell Mell.

Episode previews

Previews for upcoming episodes feature the Six Feet Under theme. The first and fifth seasons feature the original version of the song while the second, third and fourth seasons feature the Rae & Christian remix.



Two soundtrack albums, featuring music that had appeared in the series, were released:


  • Ball, Alan (2003). Six Feet Under: Better Living Through Death.
  • Akass, Kim; Janet McCabe, Mark Lawson (2005). Reading Six Feet Under: TV To Die For. I. B. Tauris.

HBO broadcast history

  • Season 1: Sunday June 3, 2001–Sunday August 19, 2001—10:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 2: Sunday March 3, 2002–Sunday June 2, 2002—9:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 3: Sunday March 2, 2003–Sunday June 1, 2003—9:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 4: Sunday June 13, 2004–Sunday September 12, 2004—9:00 p.m. ET and PT
  • Season 5: Monday June 6, 2005–Monday July 4, 2005—9:00 p.m.
    • Sunday July 10, 2005–Sunday August 21, 2005—9:00 p.m. ET and PT


External links

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