American Beauty starlet Thora Birch is a fan of screenwriter Alan Ball's offbeat HBO series, Six Feet Under. Still, she does point out that his mortuary drama bears more than a little resemblance to the Oscar-winning 1999 film. Is this a case of literary d&#233j&#224 vu for Ball?

Case in point: Birch's Beauty character, Jane, and Six Feet's similarly rebellious teenager, Claire (Lauren Ambrose), could be twins. "You can see a lot of characters from American Beauty in Six Feet Under," Birch says, "but it doesn't bother me. Ricky Fitts's mother (Allison Janney) is similar to the mom [Frances Conroy, who plays Ruth] in Six Feet Under. I notice sometimes she'll be standing [there] holding a plate or a dish rag, but that's part of Alan's style."

Conroy argues that Ruth may have started out similar to Janney's character, but has since matured. "Allison Janney's character was never able to come out of her recluse, and Ruth does," she says. "Ruth has been climbing out for awhile. She was in a state of shock for awhile after her spouse was struck by a bus and killed, but now she's blossoming. She's going in wonderful directions."

Ball takes no umbrage with the comparisons. "I'm sure there are similarities," he admits. "As I go back and look at things, I do sort of go, 'Oh wow' — but they're not planned. Like any writer, you have certain themes that keep popping up because they're part of your psyche."

What's with the continuing theme of the deranged mother? Has Ball had some personal experience with that? "Let's not go there," laughs Ball, whose mother is 88 years old. "I showed my mother the first two episodes [of Six Feet's new season] and she said, 'I am just shocked!' But when she saw American Beauty, she went, 'That was the filthiest thing I ever saw.' So I must be doing something right."

Not to press, but... has Ball's mother ever asked if she is the basis for all of his mama drama? "No," he says. "I think she's afraid of what she might hear."