Six Feet Under (2001-2005)
Leave it to Alan Ball to kick off his terrifically involving (though maddeningly uneven) HBO series Six Feet Under with a fatal car wreck on Christmas Eve. The patriarch of a brittle and self-involved L.A. family, the Fishers, is a mortician who is killed when his funeral coach (a/k/a hearse) is T-boned by a city bus while he reaches for another smoke. (Ball has never met an irony he did not immediately fall in love with.) Nathaniel Fisher (Richard Jenkins) leaves behind his sexually and socially repressed wife, Ruth (Frances Conroy); his emotionally stunted libertine of an older son, Nate (Peter Krause); his closeted and repressed younger son, David (Michael C. Hall); a raging spitfire of a daughter, Clair (Lauren Ambrose) who was reputedly Ball's alter ego and all of their many loves and losses. Regular viewers of the series, which aired from 2001 to 2005, grew to know and love the Fishers and the series despite their pretty obvious flaws (both the Fishers' and the series'). I was devoted to it for the entirety of its run and occasionally reach back to re-watch favorite episodes, among them "Back to the Garden" from Season 2, which features the wonderful Patricia Clarkson as Ruth's airy sister Sarah who invites Clair out to Topanga Canyon for a visit and a little spiritual awakening.