Netflix TV Roundup: Smallville and Six Feet Under

There’s less time for watching DVDs at Polytropos HQ with Ella in the mix, but we occasionally manage to squeeze an episode of something in after she goes to bed. Lately we’ve been trading off the second-season discs of _Smallville_ and _Six Feet Under_, respectively.

I gushed a little about _Smallville_ when we were just a few episodes into it, but at the end of the first season I was on the fence about whether to keep going. The show is one part comic book, one part X-Files, one part Buffy — but then there’s that one part Dawson’s Creek that gets oh-so irritating very quickly. But we tested the waters of Season Two, and have found it better than the first, so we’ve been pressing on. Lex Luthor remains my favorite character, Clark’s parents still annoy the hell out of me, but all in all the show has taken a slightly darker turn that suits it.

For some reason, it is terrifically important to me whether or not the show actually _ends_ — by which I mean that, instead of fizzling off into cancellation, the storyline actually takes us to the point where Clark Kent makes the decision to become a superhero and leaves Smallville. If we get there, then all of the clever bits of foreshadowing, the buildup of his powers, the little visual references (like how he’s always wearing red and blue) will all have served a _purpose_ — to show us how the hero came to be. But if we don’t get there, then it’s just a bunch of throwaway pop culture references in another teenybopper show. It seems odd that how it ends should matter so much, but in retrospect, I think it will. Of course, being a couple seasons behind, I deliberately avoid chatter about the show, so I have no idea what direction its creators see it going, or where they see it ending. But for now, anyway, I’ll go along for the ride.

The second season of _Six Feet Under_ was long-awaited and long-overdue. Why oh why don’t all the networks take lessons from HBO? This show, _The Sopranos_, _Sex in the City_: their subject matter and tone are all over the map, but what they have in common is that each episode is a finely crafted gem. The writing is sharp, and the performances are in a completely different class than that of other TV. HBO’s just the network, they’re all made by different production companies, so what’s the common denominator? Pick good people. Give them creative control. It’s easy; would that it were more common.

I shouldn’t like _Six Feet Under_ as much as I do. Sure, it’s the brainchild of Alan Ball, the very able screenwriter of _American Beauty_. But it’s just a show about normal people living normal lives. Well, it’s a family that lives in and operates a funeral home, and their lives are pretty screwed up in a variety of ways, but I mean that they’re not mobsters or superheroes and they don’t fight demons, shoot lasers, or infiltrate embassies. And I’m generally a sucker for fantastic adventure, especially when it comes to TV and movies — a family drama has a higher threshold to clear before it hooks me.

Suffice it to say, _Six Feet Under_ has hooked me. If you’re one of the people who didn’t care for _American Beauty_, it may not be your cup of tea — the same guy does the music, it revolves around the same sort of existential suburban dilemmas, and it’s even _more_ obsessed with death. The whole premise of the show seems impossible to sustain: meditations on Life, Death, and the Meanings of Things every single episode? Start every show with a death? They pull it off by underplaying those existential moments and never being preachy, and by keeping the focus on the everyday elements of the characters’ lives. A measured touch of magical realism in the form of dreams, daydreams, and visions of the recently (or not so recently) passed helps, too. There isn’t a weak link in the whole ensemble cast, though my clear favorite is Lauren Ambrose, who plays Claire, the teenage daughter. While her brothers share the uncanny ability to hide everything behind their faces, Claire hides nothing — her incredibly expressive eyes will always tell you exactly what she is thinking. But the point is not so much her eyes but that something as small and subtle as her eyes can be consistently impressive, again and again.

All this, and _Alias_ season three is coming out in September. Good times…