Drama perks up next week

Is America ready for a funeral home soap opera? Created by Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning writer of "American Beauty," the new drama "Six Feet Under" (9 p.m. Sunday, HBO) takes a bleak look at domestic dynamics. The action follows the warped relationships between members of the Fisher family who run the Los Angeles-based funeral home, Fisher & Sons.

Patriarch Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins) is first seen smoking up a storm in his brand new hearse as his brittle wife (Frances Conroy) prepares a holiday dinner. Their sullen teen-age daughter, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), goes home by way of a party, where she takes her first hit of crystal meth. Prodigal son Nathaniel (Peter Krause, "Sports Night") takes a detour of his own. He has anonymous sex in a storage closet with a fellow passenger (Rachel Griffiths) while waiting for Dad to pick him up at the airport. Meanwhile, the dutiful, buttoned-down son, David (Michael C. Hall), oversees a funeral and several embalming jobs.

If this weren't all jolly enough, Dad is killed when his hearse is hit by a bus, forcing the Fishers to forgo Christmas for an unexpected funeral.

While tonight's premiere episode is almost too much to take, "Six Feet Under" gets much better next week when the onslaught of family revelations slows down a bit. 9

� Bravo to "Biography" for taking time out from celebrity portraits to present a truly gorgeous four-hour profile of "The Impressionists" (8 p.m. Sunday, A&E;). Shot on location all over the world and featuring both well-known masterpieces and obscure works by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Morisot and Pissarro, "The Impressionists" relates the intertwined life stories of the 19th-century artists who changed the way we look at the world.

� In Sunday's season opener of "Sex and the City," the ever-randy girls agree that Australian star Russell Crowe is most certainly the hottie du jour. Catch Crowe in his Oscar-winning turn in the 2000 epic "Gladiator" (8 p.m. Saturday, HBO). Extreme violence.

Today's highlights

� NBC borrows the MSNBC program "Headliners & Legends" (7 p.m.) to profile comic Jim Carrey.

� Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals between Colorado and New Jersey (7 p.m., ABC). Who else skates in June?

� Crooner and TV perennial the late Perry Como is profiled on an updated "Biography" (7 p.m., A&E;). Magic moments.

� Jim Carrey stars in the 1995 comedy "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" (8 p.m., NBC).

Sunday's highlights

� Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): a profile of Billy Graham's daughter; prostitutes from Eastern Europe; Camden, N.J.'s third convicted mayor.

� Rosie O'Donnell stars in the 1996 kids favorite "Harriet the Spy" on "The Wonderful World of Disney" (6 p.m., ABC).

� Jack Lemmon and James Garner star in the comedy "My Fellow Americans" (7 p.m., NBC). May be pre-empted by NBA basketball finals.

� Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick host the 55th Annual Tony Awards (7 p.m., PBS). After an hour, CBS takes over the broadcast at 8 p.m.

� Mulder and Scully re-examine an old case on a repeat of "The X-Files" (8 p.m., Fox).

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