We Wouldn’t Have Dwight Schrute Without This ‘Six Feet Under’ Performance

The Big Picture

  • Rainn Wilson’s character in Six Feet Under, Arthur Martin, brings light-hearted goofiness to the tense and dark show.
  • Wilson’s chemistry with Frances Conroy’s character, Ruth Fisher, creates some awkward and memorable scenes.
  • Wilson’s performance as Arthur Martin showcases his naivety and unworldliness, reminiscent of his later role as Dwight Schrute in The Office.


Most know Rainn Wilson as the inimitable Dwight Schrute in the hit NBC comedy sitcom The Office. For close to a decade, he made us have the best kind of sidesplitting cringe moments as Michael Scott’s (Steve Carell) protégé and workplace lackey, where he would do almost anything to gain the approval of his boss and romantic interest Angela (Angela Kinsey). When he wasn’t being teased and pranked by Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), poor Dwight just wanted to make sure that he was selling as much Dunder Mifflin paper as possible while positioning himself for the head honcho position when Michael moved on. He had the part of Dwight down to science early on in the show’s run. But if you go back just a year before The Office really took off, you can see him honing his craft in one of the best family dramas in television history, Six Feet Under. Wilson came on board in the third season alongside main players Michael C. Hall, Peter Krause. Lauren Ambrose, and Frances Conroy. Wilson gives the tense, dark show some much-needed light-hearted, Dwight Schrute-ish goofiness that we would grow to become enamored with in The Office.

six-feet-under-tv-show-poster

Six Feet Under

A chronicle of the lives of a dysfunctional family who run an independent funeral home in Los Angeles.

Release Date
June 3, 2001

Cast
Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Freddy Rodriguez, Mathew St. Patrick, Rachel Griffiths, Justina Machado

Main Genre
Drama

Seasons
5


Who Does Rainn Wilson Play in ‘Six Feet Under’?

Rainn Wilson plays Arthur Martin in Six Feet Under, an intern who comes to the Fisher & Diaz Funeral Home looking to gain experience, so he can continue on his path toward becoming a licensed funeral director. When he begins his live-in apprenticeship, he immediately discovers things are extremely morose and edgy given the constant drama and discord between Nate, David, Claire, Ruth, and Rico (Freddy Rodriguez). With a steady stream of dead bodies arriving daily, Arthur is thrown to the wolves immediately, and Wilson smacks a home run in the part with his shy, almost painfully staccato, and awkward take on the role. He becomes a pivotal part of the show in Season 3, making his debut in Episode 5 “The Trap”, and the audience gets to see what would later become Dwight Schrute emerge when he gets romantically involved with the much more mature matriarch of the dysfunctional family, Ruth Fisher. The age difference makes this romance awkward enough, but combining a marvelously gifted comedic actor like Wilson with the equally gifted veteran Conroy makes for some of the most memorable scenes of not only the season but the entire show.

Rainn Wilson and Frances Conroy Share an Awkward Relationship in ‘Six Feet Under’

Frances Conroy and Rainn Wilson locking foreheads in Season 3 of Six Feet Under
Image via HBO

Ruth Fisher is played brilliantly by Frances Conroy. She is a widow who feels like she isn’t being a good mother unless she is constantly fretting and worrying about one of her kids. Her naturally uptight and eccentric demeanor is a hallmark of Six Feet Under and adding Rainn Wilson to the equation as a potential lover is enough to make you squirm in all the right kind of ways when the two share scenes together. To put the dynamic into greater context, understand that Arthur is in his early 30s and a virgin, while Ruth is a newly widowed woman in her 60s who hasn’t been in a serious relationship since her husband Nathaniel was killed in a car wreck in the show’s pilot episode.

When Ruth finds herself attracted to the naive and innocent Arthur, she slowly starts to make her move. Imagine Dwight Schrute, only less sexually aware and more awkward — if that’s even possible. Seeing these two trying to become physical with one another is like watching two giraffes procreating. It’s both sweet and utterly cumbersome. At times, you find yourself watching out the corner of your eye, like driving by the scene of a car accident. If you thought the Dwight-Angela from The Office was tough to watch, try these lovable but ill-fitting parts attempt to merge as one.

Related

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The ‘Six Feet Under’ Scene That Proved Wilson Could Become Dwight Schrute

The most endearing part of Wilson’s performance as Arthur Martin is undoubtedly his naïveté and unworldliness. It is Dwight Schrute without the unfounded workplace confidence and misguided aggressiveness. The scene where you will see and think to yourself, “There is a Dwight Schrute in there somewhere!” happens in Season 3, Episode 6 “Making Love Work.” There are several scenes throughout Season 3 that stand out, but one that sticks with us is the one where Arthur and Ruth work together to cover up a mistake that he has made with a body that is supposed to be shown to the family the following day. He is a heavy-set man and Arthur drops the body from the gurney onto the floor while transitioning it into the extra-wide casket, and it makes a loud thump. Ruth, Claire, and her boyfriend Russell (Ben Foster) all come upon the accident to help, but the man proves too large to hoist back into the casket.

Arthur goes into full panic mode, fearful of what his bosses (particularly Rico) will do if they find out he has committed such a heinous act dealing with his first body. Once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to salvage the body without further incident, Arthur calls Rico and begins to thoroughly explain himself. As he apologizes over and over again, you can absolutely see the eager-to-please Dwight Schrute trying to make good with his boss. After Arthur is satisfied that he won’t be fired, he and Ruth have their first organic bonding session. It’s the beginning of a short-lived, but eventful romance between two very odd ducks. And it has a certain beauty in its lack of sexual chemistry, instead illustrating how even the most eccentric and lonely human beings crave companionship, though sometimes it’s not in the cards.

Six Feet Under is currently available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.

Watch on Netflix

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