If the first two episodes of season four are any gauge, Home Box Office’s Six Feet Under will still be able to make the case for itself as television’s best-written dramatic series.
The travails of the denizens of funeral home Fisher & Diaz pick up where season three left off: It’s the night after the wedding of Ruth Fisher (Frances Conroy) and George (James Cromwell), and elder son Nate (Peter Krause) has been a no-show at the wedding. What the rest of the family doesn’t know is that Nate’s missing wife, Lisa, has turned up — dead — and distraught by the news, he’s been out on a bender.
Meanwhile, a decision by younger brother David (Michael C. Hall) to invite Keith (Matthew St. Patrick) to the wedding leaves the pair looking for a fresh start.
Art student Clare (Lauren Ambrose) — still smarting from a relationship that ended in an abortion — finds herself uninspired and unable to pick up her camera.
All these plot strands set the table for a season that should get the series back on the track it followed over its first two installments.
Season three often got bogged down in the awkward domestic bliss surrounding Nate, Lisa (Lili Taylor) and their new family; the new season spreads the wealth more evenly to all the characters.
The loss of Lisa also sets up an important story arc, as an encounter with a religious client who’s at peace with losing his wife leaves Nate wondering if he’s cut out for being a funeral director at all.
Secondary characters also get more screen time. We watch as the home’s third partner, family man Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) becomes a regular at a local strip club — and starts to take more of an interest in a dancer’s family than he does in his own.
We also tag along as Keith finds a new job, as bodyguard to the stars, and see how the environment affects his fragile relationship with David. In one exchange from episode two, he has to play it straight to fit in while watching the eye candy in a swanky hotel lounge.
Meanwhile, Claire’s muse is reawakened after watching an open-mike night monologue from fellow art student Edie (Mena Suvari, American Beauty), and Nate’s ex, Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) — despite a brief dalliance with Nate in the wake of the Lisa news — becomes involved with Joe (Justin Theroux), the neighbor across the way.
Perhaps the most awkward conflict to brew over the first two episode is the jealousy between George and live-in mortuary intern Arthur (Rainn Wilson), who seems to be threatened by Ruth’s new man.
As these various strains unfold, the threads are woven together well and the writing remains focused. It looks as if Six Feet Under is picking up right where it left off.
Six Feet Under returns Sunday, June 13, at 9 p.m. on HBO.