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Monday, August 04, 2003
  SFU - STFU

I love Six Feet Under. Ok so it has now lost its esoteric chic as every Thomas, Richard and Henry worth his liberal education worships at the altar of HBO original programming, but what the hell, good acting, great writing and fucking unbelievable photography aren’t diminished whether its just me watching in a darkened room or whether half the TVs in Hampshire blare it out of a Sunday evening. So the show is great, the second series admittedly less focussed, but not in the way that 24 has become a ludicrous parody of itself (though not really any less enjoyable for that if I’m honest), and even with the imperfections of sophomore seasons of American dramas, they still piddle all over British efforts from a great height.
My only problem with the program is the character of Brenda. I have tried really hard to understand why she has been written the way she has, but it fails me. She seems to have flown in from Dawson’s Creek; all cheesy evocation of a kind of brilliance that is impossible to write because if you really were that brilliant you’d realise that writing tv is pointless and would be off achieving nirvana on a hill somewhere. That is the problem, Brenda is a character of supposedly staggering intellectual powers, a proper uber-wench, but it is beyond even the script of SFU to demonstrate it. Her every utterance is a tedious compilation of the kind of thing you might have thought when you were about 14 (which makes her an interesting comparison to the character of Claire who also has this same peculiar angst but for more believably adolescent reasons). Every week there is an epiphany, and every week without fail it turns out to be more banal than the last.
The aphorism has really killed the intellect; like Emerson said, don’t give me quotation, give me what you know. A pithy phrase is armoured, as if the economy of the expression itself should be justification enough that it requires no support, no expansive exterior logic that can be called upon if the assertion is – god forbid – questioned. This is the mode of Brenda’s discourse, she pronounces, and we the viewer are invited to revel in her genius, slack jawed yokels standing gazing at the statue of her independence. At one point early on in the first season, she asserts that ‘everything is random’… yeah fight the power and down with squares n’stuff, but for fuck’s sake, give us something better than this. The world has randomness programmed into it - on a basic level mutation is a random occurrence, but the success of a mutation within its environment is not. This is not merely true for phenotypic progress, but with our own actions too. There is reason at work. When Brenda and Nate are unfaithful to each other, it is not random emotion that makes them feel guilty or confused. It may or may not be that the initiation of an action is a random event (ok ok, you’ve got me I don’t think it is, but I have to offer the benefit of the doubt somewhere), but the consequences are certainly not random. I know this, you know this… but damaged wunderkind Brenda simply grasps onto a clumsy understanding of ‘randomness’ and rides off into town on it.
So she may be the child that therapy built, and unfortunately in terms of my ability to criticise, but fortunately in terms of the mental stability of my childhood, I can’t really say if the psychological representation of her is accurate as I’ve never had therapy. Her parents are squarely to blame, and her kerayzee brother is held up as a shining example of what happens when psychotherapists attack. The lazy Larkin dictum that ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad’ is played out, as we get flashbacks of the young Brenda watching strangers screw in her front room while her mother and father (off-screen as latex only adds, it can never subtract) argue over whether stumbling into the pot-hazed fuckathon will have damaged her. Maybe that’s why her response to early-thirties malaise is to indulge in lots of unfaithful risky sex. Maybe its because she operates on a higher mental plain than the rest of us and fidelity is indeed ‘just a line in our heads’. Maybe she’s just spoiled and selfish and incapable of existing at the side of her own life, even for a second…
Like a roving free-radical buzzing around the program, she really does ruin SFU. It is a sad day when your response to a supposedly complex character in a cleverly woven drama is to think… fuck if only someone had slapped her in the face when she was a kid and told her to belt up, we wouldn’t be having this problem now.
 
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