Remembering the episode that launched one of TV’s most iconic family dramas

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Six Feet Under, created by Alan Ball (of True Blood fame), is a completed series that aired on HBO from 2001-2005. It follows a dysfunctional family of funeral directors after their patriarch, Nathaniel Fisher Sr, dies in a car crash on Christmas Eve. It’s a character-driven drama that unfolds over five seasons of brililant acting and writing.

The characters consist of Ruth Fisher—newly widowed after decades of married life—and her three children:

Nate, the eldest, moved away when he was younger, refusing to enter the family business and instead taking a temp job at an organic grocery store in Seattle. He’s back in Los Angeles for Christmas, and his father was on his way to pick up Nate from the airport when he had his fatal accident. Nate can’t stomach a pristine, impersonal funeral where everyone bottles up their emotions.

David, the closeted younger brother, abandoned his aspirations for law school and started working for the family business when he came of age. He resents Nate for moving to Seattle, but David shoulders the responsibilities nonetheless. He has difficulty depending on anyone, even his gorgeous cop boyfriend.

The youngest Fisher, Claire, is a high school student who took a hit of crystal meth for the first time moments before receiving the call about her father’s death. This leads to some rather interesting coping mechanisms.

We also meet Rico, a talented restorative artist who has worked at the funeral home ever since Nathaniel Sr. paid for his education, as well as Brenda Chenowith, a woman Nate gets to know (intimately) on the plane ride back to L.A. She has her own family troubles and visits Nate after his father’s funeral despite the seemingly one-off nature of their first encounter.

What makes Six Feet Under an irresistible series—and its pilot a stunning introductory episode—is artistry, storytelling, and the fact that not a single character is without flaws (major flaws at that). These self-destructive, and sometimes just destructive, characters can be painful to watch, but it doesn’t matter because you’re so emotionally invested in them.

The pilot introduces us to this family at a pivotal moment when everything suddenly changes. All the while, death continues to surround them. That’s the funeral business, after all. Death: Your whole life is leading up to this.

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