As Six Feet Under wrapped shooting on its fifth and final season, I had the welcome occasion to speak with the show's brilliant (and out) creator, Alan Ball. Having worked as a director on the show, helming one episode each season since its premiere, I've had a privileged vantage point from which to observe this groundbreaking and highly influential series, and I approach its concluding season with both anticipation and some sadness.
In a conversation tinged with a spot of retrospective melancholy, Alan and I reflected on the show and its impending conclusion.
Jeremy Podeswa: You've said in previous interviews that you were going to end this show in a way that would have a real sense of finality about it.
Alan Ball: Yeah, it definitely feels like a long novel, and so you want a final chapter. And since it is the last season, I think it has to end--you have to end the show.
No reunion shows, no clip shows ...
No [chuckles]. But I wonder if there is a way we could do a clip show [an episode constructed from snippets of previous installments], 'cause we're all just really tired.
They'll all have to get locked in an elevator and remember ...
Exactly. No, HBO is going to do some sort of retrospective, but it's not an actual episode of the show. It's something they're going to air the night of the final episode.
Oh, that's nice.
But it's the last chapter. It's time to move on.
Does it feel different than you thought it would?
I feel very good because I'm very pleased with the way the show ends. It's been an emotional thing for me. I have a place in Lake Arrowhead, [Calif.], and I took two of my dogs up there to write the last episode, just to lock myself in for the weekend. I was sitting there on the couch with my laptop, and I just started weeping. And it wasn't necessarily because what I was writing was sad. It's like sending your kid off to college or leaving home or something like that, because it's been such a fundamental part of my life for five years.
At the same time, I have to say, creatively I'm very excited about working on something different. Because 63 hours of the same story and the same characters and the same tone is tough. It's tough to stay in that same place. I'm in a much better place emotionally than I was when I started the show.
You mean personally?
Personally, yeah. And I find that the new stuff that I'm writing on my own is of a much lighter tone, or else it's completely bizarre and supernatural and science fiction-y or something like that. Because I feel like, OK, existential, angst-y, painful relationships with death always hovering around the corner? I've done that.
In your mind, have you come to a really satisfying conclusion for yourself with all these characters?
And you're not saying any more [chuckles].
It's not an episode where everybody's life gets tied up in a neat little bow and they've all self-actualized, although I had instincts to go in that direction because I'm so crazy that I think of these characters as real people--I just wanted them all to be really happy. But that's not life, and that's not the show either.
And how has it been on the production side? Certainly I felt melancholy [while directing my episode]--I knew it was my last time doing the show, and it's been an important part of my life in the last few years. I was talking with Frannie [Frances Conroy] and she was like, "I can't talk about it. I have to get through the rest of the season. I can't even think about it, or I'm just going to fall apart."
Yeah, it's very sad. There's a definite sadness--in the writers' room especially. We've forged such a bond over the last few years. But being writers, of course, we have a horrible time acknowledging and confronting our emotions--we can only do that on the page.
[Laughs] It makes life easier in some ways--I want to ask you, in your original decision to make David [Fisher, who runs the family funeral home] gay, was there something in particular you wanted to say about gay relationships? …