As a platform, Facebook is responsible for a lot of nefarious things, and few actions it takes are without controversy. Thus you wonder why its entry into streaming TV has been so under the radar.
Assessing the year’s content from across the multitude of networks, cable outlets and streaming services, one production that got no attention from this column – like Netflix’s Unbelievable, which I wrote about Tuesday – is the strange and sometimes confounding Sorry For Your Loss, which is available on Facebook Watch.
The first season started in the fall of last year and got some attention when a batch of episodes was screened in the Prime Time slot at the Toronto International Film Festival. There are now two seasons of 10 episodes available and the second-season finale was released in mid-November.
Watched as a package of 20 episodes of 30 minutes each, it is an enigmatic totality, an oddly small-scale drama that reaches for profundity and occasionally achieves it. Mind you, it is never a fun watch. That’s because it’s about grief and after two seasons it hasn’t let go of its core mission.
Essentially, it’s about Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) who is trying, unsuccessfully, to move on from her husband’s death. When the series starts, it’s only been a few months since Matt (Mamoudou Athie) died and Leigh is simultaneously mystified by how he died – it seems to be an accident – and her own inability to process that she is grieving. There is a lot of emotional baggage in this series.
Complicating Leigh’s situation is an often murky relationship with her sister Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), who feels obligated to stay sober after Matt’s death, and with their mother, Amy (Janet McTeer), who is both matriarch in the household they share and also runs the aerobics business that the two daughters depend upon for work.
There are episodes of Sorry for Your Loss that are, in essence, just a string of conversations between the women. The series was created by playwright Kit Steinkellner and often it feels like a stage-anchored drama. Some scenes are long, passive-aggressive conversations in a kitchen, and action is absent until somebody walks out of the room. Further, while it’s set in Southern California, never has the area seemed to be muted in colour and drenched in grey and burnt umber.
What is going on is not gripping in any conventional sense. The series is saturated in mourning and all the talk is about grief, loss and self-esteem. In the first season, there was some mystery in the drama as Leigh came to terms with the fact that there were parts of Matt’s life that she didn’t know about. She unlocked his phone, but there was no crucial or startling information found there. She just liked looking at the photos on his phone and the phone, as an object, brought her comfort.
The second season is mainly about Leigh feeling drawn to Matt’s brother Danny, (Jovan Adepo), a young man who seems to be dealing with his own pain by becoming romantically attached to Leigh. At one point, he tells her that he’s way worse off in his grief than she is: “You can get another husband. I can’t get another brother. I’m the one who’s screwed here.”
Olsen is luminous as Leigh and there is a rawness to McTeer’s take on the mother figure that is at times unnerving. Sometimes, it’s the intricate quality of the performances you watch closely, because nothing much is actually happening. At its core, the series is about anxiety – the uncertainty that comes with loss; anxiety about moving forward and bewilderment about the feelings that grief brings to the surface.
For some viewers, Sorry For Your Loss will feel turgid and bleak. For others, it will be eloquent about enduring grief. The upshot is that for all the ambivalence many people feel about Facebook, the platform is to be admired for offering content so small scale and serious-minded that it is truly unlike anything else.
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