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'SIX FEET UNDER' Are they taking a dig at undertakers?



Published: Sun, July 28, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The series is sparking conversation on the topic of death, and the once-mysterious undertaking business.

By KATIE-NELL SCANLON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The funeral. An inevitable event attended numerous times, under numerous unfortunate circumstances. The black garb, still silence, and somber faces produce an eerie, cold discomfort. The plush furniture and dimly lighted rooms provide the perfect setting for organ music and expressionless undertakers.

Ever wonder what they do with the ...? Never mind.

Although it isn't a welcome topic of conversation, what better mode could be used to redefine the funeral biz than television. HBO, to be specific.

The HBO hit series "Six Feet Under" throws the dirt on common perceptions of death and dying and buries them -- for good.

The series tracks the lives of a family knee-deep in the funeral business and comically depicts the hang-ups they must face.

Meet the Fishers, a dysfunctional family that owns and operates an independent funeral home in Los Angeles. Nathaniel Fisher, the family patriarch, died while driving a new hearse and singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." But that doesn't stop him from appearing before his wife, Ruth; two sons, Nate and David; and daughter, Claire, in flashbacks and dreams. The wide array of family members and friends consists of characters from this world and beyond, troubled by all your everyday undertaking problems.

What undertakers think

The new series is sparking conversation on the topic of death, and the once-mysterious funeral business.

Jim McFarland of McFarland and Son Funeral Services in Warren is a big fan. McFarland, a fourth-generation funeral director, said the show brings to the surface an issue many were uncomfortable with.

"When we were kids, we were told not to talk about it," McFarland said. "The show has served as a shock treatment, addressing one of the last taboos left to discuss."

McFarland said the series depicts real issues that people in the funeral business face, but it tends to get wrapped up in the "business" of things. Kroehner Service International, the late Nathaniel Fisher's rival, tries to buy out the independent funeral director. McFarland said the profit aspect of the business isn't the bottom line.

"It's a story," McFarland said. "And they have to be able to sell the story."

Kathy Blackstone from Blackstone's Funeral Homes in Girard said she tuned in to the hit series for one episode and isn't interested in watching more.

"The way they were doing things wasn't realistic," Blackstone said. "The episode I saw, one of the characters just sat down with a widow and starting talking to her. We wouldn't begin a meeting like that."

Lacking sensitivity?

Blackstone said she and her colleagues have respect and patience with grieving families, a side she doesn't think the TV show accurately portrays.

Blackstone commented that the show exaggerates the cost of services. She said in reality the business isn't concerned with selling the most expensive caskets. She fears that people take the show at face value.

"The average caskets run about $1,800 to $2,000," Blackstone explained. "They showed one for $9,000, and that's what people are going to think they cost."

Joann Fabrizio of Fabrizio Funeral Home in Youngstown said she doesn't think the true professionalism of the business is portrayed in the series.

"There's more to deal with than what they show on TV," Fabrizio said. "We dedicate so much of our lives to this. If the family is grieving, we're there, no matter when. I think they need to focus on that."

Fabrizio did acknowledge the instruments and tables used in the show are very realistic, but she said the show's drama and vulgarity were unnecessary.

Interested in what all the discussion is about? Episodes of "Six Feet Under" are shown at 8 p.m. Sundays on HBO.

kscanlon@vindy.com




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