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In some ways, HBO's Six Feet Under plays kid brother to stellar BMOC The Sopranos: it's spunkier, less refined, chancier, and a bit of a punk. Nevertheless, the show set in the Southern California mortuary Fisher and Sons deserves its place in the pantheon of great television series. The initial season was a showcase for the most original characters, including tight-lipped brother David (Michael C. Hall) coming out of the closet, emotionally trippy mom Ruth (Frances Conroy), and the most complex girlfriend on the face of the planet, Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). Slowly, the major force in season 2 is the unassuming lead, Peter Krause. Part of the long line of good-looking actors who never get respect because they make it look too easy, Krause (Sports Night) finds the perfect blend of optimism with a wonderful, bittersweet anguish as Nate, the prodigal son. The initial season's happy ending is forgotten as relationships change, the business is still under fire from the evil conglomerate Kroehner, and a lively dream sequence is just around the corner. As with the premier season, creator Alan Ball lets many others direct and write the show, but his stamp is all over it. The eccentricities of the characters are shaped, and not always suddenly. Take daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose), who sheds her bad boyfriend only to find more complex relationships on her road to discovering her own groove. One person in the mix is Ruth's beatnik sister (Patricia Clarkson, in an Emmy-winning role), a joyous embodiment of thriving--if aging--counter culture. Another new character is Nate's old girlfriend, the granola-loving Lisa (Lili Taylor). With Brenda heading down another destructive course, Nate is at more than one crossroads by season's end. For fans who groove with the wild, serio-comedic world of the Fishers (and let's face it, many didn't), the second season goes down like a fine meal of fusion cuisine. The show shares an unfortunate family trait with its HBO big brother: although both were lavished with multiple Emmy nominations the first two seasons, both took home only token awards. But then there's always next year. --Doug Thomas