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A new season of angst begins on 'Six Feet Under'

If the characters don’t give me a break during the fourth season and get their lives in order, my next piece might begin with my name on a title card along with the years of my birth and death. By Michael Ventre
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Of all the characters on “Six Feet Under,” the one I worry about most is Ruth. I thought my anxiety reached its boiling point when she fooled around with Arthur last season. What was she thinking? Arthur? He shouldn’t be working at a funeral home, he should be monitoring a “Dungeons and Dragons” chat room.

When you consider Ruth’s choices in men, it’s enough to make you prepare for the new season of “Six Feet Under” from a car inside a closed garage with the motor running. Her first husband Nathaniel Sr. seems like a man’s man, or I should say, a ghost’s ghost. But after that, it’s been a steady stream of knuckleheads. Remember the nature hike with Ed Begley Jr.’s Hiram the hairdresser? Then there was Nikolai the Russian (Ed O’Ross). That should have been red flag time for Ruth. How many florists do you know who are in debt to the mob?

Hmmm, let’s see here. A hairdresser, followed by a florist. Can an interior decorator or a choreographer be far behind?

Torrent of angst
I think you see where I’m going with all this. I care a little too much about these people. It’s a bit unhealthy. Once again the wickedly brilliant Alan Ball and his cohorts are set to unleash a torrent of angst on a rapt cable audience. If these characters don’t give me a break during the fourth season and get their lives in order, my next piece might begin with my name on a title card along with the years of my birth and death.

Ruth (Frances Conroy) isn’t the only character on “Six Feet Under” who causes me to curl up in a fetal position and babble incoherently, although I’ve done some of my best writing that way. Nate (Peter Krause) has a baby daughter, a lot of guilt over his dead wife and an old flame with more issues than Time Magazine. Claire (Lauren Ambrose) is a cutie, but much like her mom, her choices of men border on the macabre. David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith (Mathew St. Patrick) probably should have the most promising relationship of them all, but instead, they’re usually at each other’s throats. Federico (Freddy Rodriguez) has pressure at home and pressure at work, and if something doesn’t give, he may become the first character in television history to kill himself and embalm himself.

But it’s Ruth who takes the booby prize. At the end of last season, she married James Cromwell’s George. She knew him for exactly six weeks, long enough to find out that he’s been married six times before. Given his history, it’s a cruel joke for him to tell her, “Til’ death do us part,” although it’s far less offensive than if he had said, “That’ll do, pig.”

I think after a parade of flighty losers, Ruth was simply looking for the stability with George that she once had with Nathaniel Sr. (Richard Jenkins). I’m hoping that during this upcoming season George does the right thing to protect Ruth and the entire Fisher family by making sure that Arthur’s computer music is never again played on the premises.

Nate also worries me. He has adorable little Maya to take care of, but no Lisa (Lili Taylor). Ordinarily, I would not be in favor of a child growing up without a mother, but there are always exceptions to everything. “Lisa Kimmel Fisher — 1967-2003” was slowly destroying the Fisher clan. If she didn’t do it with her incessant whining and nagging and complaining, she did it with her organic cooking. When Nate first got involved with her, he was about 6-foot-5. Now I swear he’s 5-foot-2. I’m sure she’ll return this season in flashbacks, which leads me to wonder if it’s possible to set your TiVo so it eliminates the commercials and the Lisa flashbacks.

At the end of last season, Nate showed up bloody and beaten at Brenda’s. After he got the news that Lisa’s body was found, he went on a bender. This season should reveal whether his downward spiral ends at her door, or is really just beginning.

Claire's fresh new bloom
As for Claire, I’m glad she’s finished with the whole Russell-Olivier dynamic. Besides the fact that Russell (Ben Foster) was a sexually confused dweeb and Olivier (Peter Macdissi) was a narcissistic poser, I just couldn’t look at that art work anymore. It’s like the kind of stuff you see stacked up at a frame shop. On the plus side, it made me glad Olivier wasn’t teaching cardiology.

This season there are hints that Claire may soon be vacationing on the Isle of Lesbos. Mena Suvari, one of the stars of “American Beauty,” is set to appear as a performance artist who forms a close friendship with Claire. The show’s creators have gone from the Frances Conroy-Kathy Bates flirtation to this, providing a shining example that you should keep working on an idea until you get it right.

David and Keith aren’t as interesting as they once were,  and I hope that can be fixed. They’ve been together for three seasons now and their issues with each other are no longer fresh. They’ve tried therapy, they’ve tried church, they’ve tried going away together,  they’ve tried a paintball weekend,  they’ve tried bringing in a third guy. It seems obvious that this union is not meant to be. Then again, it could be considered groundbreaking television if a gay couple is staying together for the sake of appearances.

I’m also nervous about Federico. At the end of last season, he was coping with a wife in an antidepressant haze and a sister-in-law who rode in on a broomstick and won’t leave. I don’t want to predict any harm will befall either of these shrews, but I do feel a little better knowing that Federico can probably get an employee discount where he works.

And don’t forget Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). Supposedly she gets involved with a neighbor in the fourth season. I don’t know what that means for Nate, but my feeling is that Brenda’s relationships usually start to deteriorate shortly after she says to a new boyfriend, “I’d like you to meet my brother.”

This show kills me.

Michael Ventre is a Los Angeles based writer and a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.