With the second season of Six Feet Under out now on DVD, I recently gave in to Netflix and spent many consecutive evenings relaxing with the dysfunctional Fisher family, the proprietors of a Los Angeles funeral home. Brenda, the wild, aimless girlfriend of wild, aimless Nate Fisher, may be half-Jewish, but her cultural legacy is being the overanalyzed child of psychoanalysts; I was confident I could fold up my professional antennae. Then, midway through the season, in walks a pretty young rabbi.
Rabbi Ari fetches up at Fisher & Sons when one of her congregants, a studio executive, accidentally hangs himself during a solo sex session; the shame surrounding his death sends them away from the family synagogue. There’s instant chemistry between Nate, who’s engaged to Brenda but restless, and Rabbi Ari, who’s available but won’t date non-Jewish men. In an echo of Joy Comes in the Morning, Ari invites Nate along to the funeral. She parlays the sexual flirtation into spiritual counseling, penetrating deeper into Nate’s soul than Brenda ever has.
Modeled on a female rabbi at the synagogue where one of the show’s writers worships, Rabbi Ari is a refreshing surprise, maybe the most comfortable observant Jew on television since Joe Lieberman. But then she introduces Nate, who has a potentially fatal brain condition (no more knocking soap operas!), to a terminal cancer patient who’s alone in the world and needs to plan his own funeral. Nate decides to visit Aaron regularly, sitting by him as a way of facing his own mortality. In the end, it’s almost as if Rabbi Ari shows him the way to Jesus, and there’s something creepy about Nate watching his Jewish substitute suffer so that he may see the light.