TV Eye

Grave Matters

<i>Six Feet Under</i> returns for its third season on Sunday.
Six Feet Under returns for its third season on Sunday.

Appointment television is back when Six Feet Under returns for its third season this Sunday. Series creator Alan Ball penned the stunning season opener, directed by Rodrigo García (Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her). While Ball's strategy wasn't entirely unexpected, how it unfolded was simply sublime. If that sounds intentionally vague, it is. All I can safely say is, break out the tissues. The season opener is one of the most emotionally riveting and well-crafted episodes of the series. Yes, I said "the series." And there's only more of the same to come, if the first five episodes I screened are any indication.

It's always interesting for me to hear Six Feet Under described as tackling the "last taboo: death." In reality, the series is about life and how one comes to respect or fear how absurdly short life is when confronted by the big sleep and the choices made from those confrontations. In lesser TV fare, sameness and predictability is the norm. Character changes are usually played for laughs and only for the duration of an episode. In Six Feet Under, the characters ripen. However, ripening is not necessarily analogous to sweetening.

As expected, Fisher & Sons is now Fisher & Diaz. In an effort to assert his new authority, the once loveable Federico (Freddy Rodriguez) has turned into something of a self-righteous snit. David (Michael C. Hall) still carries some of the shame about his homosexuality, though it's less debilitating, while Keith's (Mathew St. Patrick) rage has simmered down to a low frustration. Claire (Lauren Ambrose) is making familiar choices about men but has learned to cut the fat a lot earlier. I hope. Grandparenting seems to suit Ruth (Frances Conroy), and she finds a terrific new friend in Bettina (Kathy Bates) and later in a new Fisher & Diaz apprentice named Arthur (Rainn Wilson, introduced in the fifth episode).

The lovely and amazing Lili Taylor has a higher profile this season as Lisa, the mother of Nate's daughter, Maya. And Nate (Peter Krause)? He gets a new hairstyle, which isn't very becoming. That's all I can honorably tell you.

In addition to the aforementioned new characters, Catherine O'Hara (Waiting for Guffman) turns in a splendid performance as Carol, a demanding, emotionally retarded entertainment executive for whom Lisa works.

As always, the deaths that open each episode are telling, sometimes funny, sometimes bittersweet. Note to self: Locate a fine tenor to sing "Nessun Dorma" at my funeral.

The third season of Six Feet Under premieres Sunday, March 2, at 8pm, on HBO. Encores air throughout the week. The first three episodes of the third season will air back-to-back on March 22 starting at 9pm.

What Else Is On?

Placed on hiatus to make room for Kingpin, Boomtown returns with new episodes this Sunday. In case you missed the first 11 episodes, Bravo is having a Boomtown marathon starting at 10am on Sunday. Boomtown airs Sundays, at 9pm, on NBC.

The Sundance Channel continues to bring exceptional work to the small screen when it premieres a new documentary series called DOCday. Each DOCday begins at noon and continues through midnight, featuring shorts and original segments. The centerpiece of each DOCday is the U.S. television premiere of a critically acclaimed documentary feature. First up is The Trials of Henry Kissinger (March 3). Based on the book by Christopher Hitchens, the film examines the human-rights charges brought against the former secretary of state. Other films include: Offspring (3/10), If I Should Fall From Grace (3/17), McLuhan's Wake (3/24), and The Inner Tour (3/31). All DOCday features air at 8pm on the Sundance Channel.

For Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fans, one of the big questions of the season has been, when is Faith going to make her long-awaited return? The wait is over. Eliza Dushku reprises her role as Faith when she returns to Angel on Wednesday, March 5. Wes (Alexis Denisof) apparently breaks the rogue slayer out of the big house (where we last saw her) in order to take down the evil Angelus -- that's Angel (David Boreanaz), gone nasty when his soul got misplaced. I hate when that happens.

Angel airs Wednesdays, 8pm, on the WB.

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Alan Ball, Rodrigo Garcia, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael C. Hall, Mathew St. Patrick, Lauren Ambrose, Frances Conroy, Kathy Bates, Rainn Wilson, Lili Taylor, Peter Krause, Catherine O'Hara, Six Feet Under, Kingpin, Bravo, Boomtown, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Offspring, If I Should Fall From Grace, McLuhan's Wake

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