Most of the contributors to this volume of essays on HBO's 5-season hit SIX FEET UNDER praise the series as groundbreaking, smart, well-written, honest, and deeply felt. I share their high opinion of SFU and find that I continue to find new things to delight in (if you can use that expression for a series that focuses on death and damaged human relations) each time I watch an episode.
If you're a fan of SFU or just someone who likes to watch television thoughtfully, you'll find this volume helpful. These are not newspaper style reviews; most are essays by academics focusing on one character or aspect of the show. There is academic jargon here to be sure (in some essays more than others), but I found I could navigate it fairly easily with a dictionary at my elbow (though I had to Google "diegesis" to understand Peter Kaye's article on the music of SFU). Special attention was given to gender issues. Part III is entitled "Post-Patriarchal Dilemmas: Making Visible the Female Subject" and contains essays on Ruth Fisher (the mother whose unexpected and premature widowhood launches season 1), Claire (her only daughter), and Brenda (a complicated outsider who becomes increasingly involved with the family over the course of the series). I found Erin's MacLeod's "Desperately Seeking Brenda: Writing the Self in Six Feet Under" especially engaging--in part, because I found this character more baffling and frustrating than any other in the show. As with many of the essays in this volume, I suspect MacLeod wrote her essay at some point during season 3 or 4, but certainly well before Brenda's full trajectory was known. She seemed to have missed the opportunity to comment on Brenda's personal post-patriarchal experience (the death of her own father, Bernard Chenowith). I think the volume would have been greatly enhanced if contributors were given an opportunity to attach Afterwords to their essays based on having seen the entire series, including the amazing final episode in which viewers are shown exactly how each of the main characters faces her/his own death.
Gender is also the key theme in "Part IV: Post-Patriarchal Dilemmas: Masculinities Reconsidered," with Queer Theory playing an important role in Brian Singleton's "Queering the Church," which focuses on the way David Fisher deals with his homosexuality, and Samuel A. Chambers's "Revisiting the Closet," which focuses on the experiences Russell Corwin, an art school classmate of Claire's, a relatively minor character in the series. Again, it would have been interesting to know what these authors thought upon seeing the last episode of season 5.
My favorite essay in the whole volume, however, was "Playing in the Deep End of the Pool" by Thomas Lynch, who is a funeral director (from a family of funeral directors) in addition to being a skilled writer. Besides providing useful insights into SFU's portrayal of his profession, he gives the first critical perspective I've read on Jessica Mitford's classic 1963 expose of the death care industry, THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH, that makes sense without seeming defensive.
The book includes an Episode Guide (through the end of season 4); a Film and TV Guide (baffling for what it includes--The King and I?--as well as for what it omits--where are Rachel, Rachel; Four Weddings and a Funeral; Longtime Companion; The Passion of the Christ, to name a few?); a Bibliography that doesn't include every work sited by the authors; and an Index.