March 11, 2002 12:00 PM

HBO (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

This sophomore series is up to its old tricks—slowly drawing us into the strange world of Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, artfully blending drama and dark humor so we don’t know what to expect from scene to scene, making us ponder the meaning of life while immersing us in the business of death.

On Six Feet Under, irony is the rule and feelings are hardly ever unmixed. In the first of 13 new episodes (March 3), Nate (Peter Krause) learns he has a brain condition that may prove fatal. But here’s the good news: He passed his state funeral director exam! In the second episode his mother, Ruth (Frances Conroy), starts falling under the influence of a self-actualization group founded on a life-as-a-house metaphor. Ruth’s psychobabble is funny until episode 4, when a misguided attempt at frank communication with her gay son David (Michael C. Hall) ends with both parties emotionally wounded.

This challenging show offers the viewer nary a morsel of TV comfort food. But uncommonly good writing and acting are satisfying too.

Bottom Line: Digs ever deeper

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