Six Feet Under: The Complete Fourth Season

There's a moment during a Six Feet Under cast interview conducted by Bob Costas that's included on the fourth season DVD box set when he asks about the show's initial pitch: doing an hour-long comedy set in a funeral home where the patriarch dies in the first episode and someone else dies to open each subsequent week. It's a notable moment. Not because Six Feet Under gives such good DVD extras — the sets so far have been weak on that front, although this season is a slight improvement. Not because Costas's sit-down with the remarkably talented cast is uniquely insightful or fresh: it's not. It's a moment worth marking because he calls the show a comedy, something of a cold splash in the face for those who've moped along at home through this, the dreariest and creatively lowest ebbing season of the entire series. While the show has absolutely maintained a dark undertone of humour throughout its run, if it got a little mopey at all in its time it's here. Nate (Peter Krause) and Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) spend most of the year resigning themselves that nothing better is going to come along (a less loveless, lifeless relationship has rarely been sustained so long in TV); David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) actually switch roles, as David gets unhinged and Keith becomes the supportive, stable one; poor Claire (Lauren Ambrose) wanders rather listlessly through sexual experimentation and artistic frustration that betray both her skill as an actor and the depth of Claire's character. The only shining light appears to be that Ruth (Frances Conroy) might get a shot at happiness with recurring guest star James Cromwell. All this seems like harsh slaps against one of the best, most compelling shows on television, and they are. Six Feet Under at its very worst is still one of the most compelling hours of TV ever made. It wandered down a bit of a dark path for a while, and it lost some of the bite that made it not just fascinating but revelatory in the first two years. And the fifth (and final) season has redeemed its meandering to a certain extent. But, fittingly given the theme of the series, all things must pass, and after the last two seasons, most fans will be accepting that even this must come to an end. Plus: editing featurette, deleted scenes, audio commentaries. (HBO/Warner)