Hollywood Quote Du JourPart of: Hollywood , Literati , Television
[Breakfast: "this fig walks into a bar..." from Trader Joe's ]
Response to my observation that there are far more male writers on TV shows than women...
"That's because women are unfunny."
--former studio head
Maria Elena Fernandez from the LA Times writes May 29, 2004:
With three female writers, "Six Feet Under" explores more fully the lives of women. The show's creator lets the "teenage girl living inside" of him out.
RACHEL GRIFFITHS is enjoying a chopped salad ("one of the best things about America") and French fries, when it occurs to her that being surrounded by death can be a good thing:
"Wherever there is death, there has to be the question of God," said Griffiths, the Australian Oscar-nominated actress who plays Brenda Chenowith on HBO's "Six Feet Under." "This may be a show about undertakers, but it doesn't make you think about death as much as it makes you think about life. That's true for the characters and it's definitely true for us, the cast. We are certainly learning to make the most of our moments through these stories."
And the writers of "Six Feet Under" are making the most of their women. When the fourth season premieres on June 13, its four leading ladies will be front-and-center — virtues, flaws and all. Anyone who is lamenting the departure of "Sex and the City" characters Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha to a cleaned-up future in perpetual reruns on TBS can turn to Claire, Ruth, Brenda and Vanessa for raw sexuality, complexity and depth rarely portrayed by women on television.
This is in contrast to the first three seasons. Despite its ensemble cast, the show has so far revolved around Peter Krause's Nate Fisher — last season alone he battled the after-effects of a brain tumor and confronted his tortured marriage, the birth of his daughter and, in true high-class soap opera fashion, the death of his wife, Lisa (Lili Taylor). A prime subplot involved the complex relationship of Nate's brother, David (Michael C. Hall), and his partner, Keith (Mathew St. Patrick).
But this year, matriarch Ruth Fisher will explore her feminine wiles and profound anxieties in a second marriage; daughter Claire still longs to be loved by a boy but will slowly learn to love herself through her art; Brenda, the nympho-genius, will give her heart to a new man and shock herself with a choice for a new career; and Vanessa Diaz will epitomize independence and strength when her marriage to Federico "Rico" Diaz runs into serious trouble.
"So many of our characters, especially the women, used to be attached to other character's stories, but now have full stories of their own," executive producer Alan Ball said. "Our writers always work from the point of view of storytelling and what is interesting to us. But that being said, three of our [eight] writers are women and they have a strong issue with presenting situations that happen in women's lives adequately.
"Our show is fundamentally about moral characters trying to find their way between right and wrong in an imperfect world. That's certainly true of our women, and this season things get a lot more complicated for them."
Since coming on the scene three seasons ago, this show created by Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning writer of "American Beauty," gained instant critical acclaim, a slew of Emmy nominations (though few wins) and a passionate fan base. Harder to come by is the water-cooler cachet — and large audiences — HBO grew to depend on with the now-departed "Sex and the City" and the soon-to-depart "The Sopranos."
Part of the challenge: Each episode begins with someone dying and combines a quirky mix of dark humor, searing tragedy and complex family dynamics.
"The show has always had a following and has been important to the network from the start," said Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO Entertainment and the executive in charge of the channel's original series, curtly dismissing any notion that the pressure is on Ball and his staff. She said the increased focus on the female characters, "can only more firmly entrench the show in our minds. It can't help but add luster."
Robert Greenblatt, one of the show's executive producers, although he's now the top programmer at HBO's rival Showtime, believes the series is reaching its prime. "This show seems to be in the prime of its young adulthood," Greenblatt said. "Provided that [Ball], his writing staff and the actors want to keep doing it, there are several more years of rich stories to tell with these characters."
The series opens its season where the previous one left off: with the emotionally challenged but warm-hearted Fisher clan trying to cope with Lisa's death, instead of planning funeral services for a client. The loss forces the Fishers, who deal with death routinely, to confront their own mortality in a way even the death of patriarch Nathaniel Fisher in the pilot episode never did.
"All of the Fishers feel they should be self-sufficient without being a burden," said Ball (who attributes at least some of the increasing feminine energy on his show to the "big old teenage girl living inside of me"). "One of the lessons for all of them is that letting someone into your life to share pain and hardship doesn't make you a burden. That's a part of love as well. Lisa's death helps them stumble into that truth."
If "Six Feet Under," a show where the mortality clock is always ticking, feels more feminine than ever and its women oddly real, that's because its three female writers make it a point to depict Ruth, Claire, Brenda and Vanessa as multidimensional characters who often do the wrong thing when they're trying to do right.
Until this season, viewers knew Ruth Fisher, played by Frances Conroy, 51, only as a lonely widow who doted on her children but never knew how to communicate with them. This season begins the morning after her wedding (the same day the family learns of Lisa's death) to George Sibley (James Cromwell), a man she has known only six weeks.
"She's someone who has come a long way in finding out who she is, who her kids are, who her husband was, what she needs in life and what her joys are," said Conroy, who this year won a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama series and a Screen Actors Guild award for best female actor in a drama. "She's a very full person, which is not something you see a lot in television, especially with female characters. Through the mirror of the marriage, you get a fuller picture of the two people together but you certainly see more sides of her."
"You look at this show and see that it's mostly about the men," writer Jill Soloway said. "But before it's a show about the brothers and death, it's a show about honesty and real people and I have an unbelievable opportunity here to present characters who are right and are wrong. So when you see Claire this season getting stoned, there will not be an after-school special moment in the next scene with someone saying, 'Uh-oh, let's get Claire some help.' It's just a part of her life."
Played by Lauren Ambrose, who was nominated for a supporting actress Emmy in 2002 and 2003, Claire, the youngest Fisher, had an abortion at the end of last season, an event that temporarily killed her artistic muse. This year, instead of focusing on the man in her life, Claire will explore friendships with women, including one with a new character played by Mena Suvari, and grow as an artist. She also will experiment with drugs and question her own sexuality.
"Claire's really likable and always has funny things to say," says Ambrose, 26, relaxing at Buddha's Belly in West Hollywood with a cup of green tea. "But I also feel like she's been vulnerable and is now becoming very selfish. She's in a more self-centered place for a college student, which is normal. That's what is so special about the writing of this show. They're not afraid to give Claire some unattractive qualities."
Nor are they cautious about expanding the role of Vanessa, the young mother of two who pushed her husband, Rico (Freddy Rodriguez), to become a partner at the funeral home in the second season. Played by Justina Machado, who said she saw the pilot and wondered, "Who will ever watch this?," Vanessa went through a difficult time after the death of her mother last season but has now recovered. Her troubled marriage, however, has not.
"This is the season where you really get to know Vanessa," says Machado, 31. "You always saw her as the mother or the wife. Now you'll see a side you haven't seen. It's a 360, which as an actor is what you want."
Because the Diazes are Puerto Rican, like the actors who play them, the writers turn to Machado and Rodriguez for everyday details. "Sometimes it's a simple thing like letting them know that we don't say mijo and mija," Machado said. "But what I like the most about the show is that we're just a couple. We're not portrayed as a Latin couple, just like David and Keith are not a gay couple. They're a couple with the same problems as everybody else."
Soloway said some of her favorite scenes this season involved Vanessa and Rico's arc. "She's going to give Edie Falco [of 'The Sopranos'] a run for her money in a scene where she really lets loose her female ... energy. You feel her fury and her rage."
Griffiths' character, in contrast, will be a bit less dramatic this season. "Brenda has a beautiful combination of obviously an active sexuality, a capacity for empathy, and she's really smart and has an eye for theology," Griffiths, 35, said, over lunch at the Chateau Marmont. "She always looks for the meaning of it all. While she was having sex all over town, she was also taking care of her brother. Now, the nympho part of her has settled down a bit and the braniac part is back. It had to, or it would have been like cutting her spirit. Not to mention that it would have become very boring."
It is Ball's presence in the writing room that helps all of the writers keep the characters honest, Soloway said.
"We are all parts of Alan's psyche, and the characters are all part of his psyche," she said. "The teenage girl inside Alan allows us to tell the truth about ourselves. That's true of all the characters but it was so much more needed with the four women so there wouldn't be a judgment of them in the writing. Male energy is the answer and feminine energy is the question. Almost all of television is about providing the answer in the end. Our shows usually end with a question. It's kind of bittersweet. Sometimes, you might even feel a little sick."
I'm not one of those die-hard LA Times critics. (I also wasn't trying to cut and paste this whole article, but unless you subscribe to The Times you can't read it.)
I do tend to read The LA Times Calendar section, California and glance at the front page, but usually read The New York Times front page instead. I favor The New York Times-- mostly because it has an international slant to the news, and because it's easier to read online.
I also love The Wall Street Journal. And now I come around to my point: I was excited to read the previous article because I thought it was going to be about the three female writers of "Six Feet Under." But no, the headline was too good to be true. (I am about to faint from the skunk smell outside my window, so I'll have to edit this later)There is only one quote from one of the writers, Jill Soloway. (OK, I will finish this later before I do keel over from being skunked.)
Soloway: "We are all parts of Alan's psyche, and the characters are all part of his psyche.The teenage girl inside Alan allows us to tell the truth about ourselves."
Sure, that's a pretty brilliant quote.
Note to self: If I ever become a TV scribe say similar quote in interview.
The rest of the article consists of quotes from the actresses and a few quotes from Alan Ball and executives. Perhaps the other writers didn't want to be interviewed, but it's a shame. It ended up being just another article quoting actresses who would say how fab the writing was even if it sucked. It's too bad, because "Six Feet Under" really is well-written and a special show.
P.S. I wrote my own fan letter back in the day to "Six Feet's" Kate Robin.
In other news (Sunday):
I love David Sedaris (in case you forgot.) I need to go buy his new book immediately. Another good piece about writer, Helen Fielding in the Sunday NYT. I will definitely check out her new book. Maybe she'll invite me over for a pool party someday soon (David, can I visit you in Paris?). The food critic cracked me up today.