It could almost be a joke about the current era of #PeakTV, where new content platforms sprout up in the most seemingly ridiculous places—new Billy on the Street sketches are currently being made by Lyft—as in the ride-sharing app—and hundreds of series play in obscurity on TV channels that sound made up.
That one of the best new drama series of the fall is a show that airs on Facebook would seem like the punchline, were it not completely true.
Sorry For Your Loss will be released Tuesday in binge-ready format on Facebook Watch, starring Elizabeth Olsen as a grieving widow figuring out what her life is now that her husband is gone and in his place is incurable pain.
It’s one of a curious number of series this fall to tackle death, grieving, and healing, with Kidding, A Million Little Things, Forever, and the Grand Poobah of death-driven weepies, This Is Us, among them. But where Kidding and Forever color the grieving process with genre-tinged whimsy and most other dramas dealing with death on TV score it all to a twee, lilting soundtrack designed to manipulate your heartstrings, Sorry For Your Loss approaches the topic with a clear-eyed, emotionally blunt sense of grounding.
Olsen, who also executive-produces the series, gets her best showcase since her Martha Marcy May Marlene breakout as Leigh, a former advice columnist whom we meet three months after her husband’s death.
Our first introduction to her is at a group grief counseling meeting, where she is trying to explain what her loss feels like. She recalls seeing an infographic once that said the death of a spouse is like losing $308,780 a year. “It would feel like a problem you would never fix. It feels like an impossible number to lose,” she says. “I would say that my husband being dead would feel like the same kind of impossible thing.”
But this isn’t a show in which the grieving are hyper-aware of their feelings and able to articulate them in moving, TV-friendly speeches. The brutal reality of Leigh’s grief is how helpless she is at diagnosing how she feels and how clumsily inarticulate she is about expressing it. She’s moving through life, but she’s in a way crippled.
Leigh is caustic and prickly, antagonistic to her family (Kelly Marie Tran plays her sister, a recovering addict named Jules, and Janet McTeer is her well-meaning mother, Amy), and often resorts to weaponizing her husband’s death: as an excuse to not do something, a justification for ugly behavior, and a vehicle for cruelty when she needs the catharsis.
She is allergic to Hallmark maxims and hollow platitudes about her journey. “This Nicholas Sparks widow group keeps sending me inspirational quotes that make me want to burn the world down,” she says at one point. She’s aware that people expect a widow to become some pillar of strength and an admirable portrait of resilience. The one thing she is able to vocalize is her utter lack of interest in embodying that: “I think I’m stuck in whatever stage it is where you’re a raging bitch to everyone within a ten-mile radius.”
Her conversations, especially with her husband’s brother, reveal harsh, unflattering truths about our own patterns of behavior when we orbit someone who is grieving. How we tend to busybody at first, making food and donations and phone calls and helping out, but then trail off and out of contact because we’re over our grief and expect you to be over yours, too. Or how we instinctively ask family members “were you close?” when a loved one dies, in order to judge or quantify how sad for them we should be.
The show doesn’t blame us or condemn us for doing that. It just points out that this is often how we handle death, a situation inherently impossible to handle. That’s the refreshing, if painful, value of this show. It simply exposes that impossibility, and lets both its characters and its audience live, often messily, in it.
Sorry For Your Loss is a gem of a show. With a cast this impressive—in Olsen, an Avenger; in Tran, a Star Wars alum; in McTeer, a renowned Oscar nominee—a series this well-executed would ordinarily be a marquee entry in the fall TV season. But given this new, bizarrely expansive TV landscape, the question instead becomes whether anyone will even know it exists.
Did you know Facebook made TV? Facebook Watch officially rolled out in 2017, and has been making original short-form content and broadcast-quality long-form TV series since. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company planned to spend upwards of a billion dollars on original TV programming this year.
When you look at the number of series the platform has already aired—nearly 50 shows including scripted, reality, documentary, news, and talk shows, more than most TV networks produce—it’s baffling that so many people had no idea the service exists.
That’s not to say that Facebook Watch hasn’t produced good content with major talent. Kerry Washington serves as executive producer of the teen drama Five Points, Bill Murray and Bear Grylls both have docuseries, and Anderson Cooper hosts a news program for the platform. Loosely Exactly Nicole, the comedy series from Nailed It! breakout Nicole Byer, was rescued by Facebook Watch after MTV cancelled it.
All it takes to put a network or content provider on the map, according to conventional wisdom, is one breakout show. And Sorry For Your Loss, given its quality and star pedigree, has the potential to do that for Facebook Watch. But is that really true anymore?
There are over 500 TV series that aired in 2018. That’s not an exaggerated number. And that is insane, as is the sheer number of platforms committed to making them. It used to be that just listing the number of cable networks would be a laughably long exercise. Now the number of streaming platforms is similarly out of control. Networks like CBS and Sundance have even created their own streaming platforms, with shows made exclusively for them. The shows are great. The Good Fight is the best drama series to air this year. But did anyone watch it?
One of the most exasperating things about how much TV there is to watch is how much of it is middling. I can’t tell you how many darkly-lit drama series starring some A-list movie actor making their splashy TV debut I’ve binged, then could barely muster a shoulder shrug once I’d finished. “How is it?!” friends will ask when they learn I’ve screened it. “It’s fine,” I’ll say. It’s depressing, really, how many shows there are that are just fine. We should stop calling it #PeakTV and start calling it #FineTV.
But perhaps the most maddening thing about how much TV there is to watch is how hard it is, once a truly excellent show comes along, for that show to make noise and stand out. The Good Fight should have taken home several Emmy Awards on Monday night. It wasn’t nominated for any. Elizabeth Olsen should be an Emmy contender next year for her work on Sorry For Your Loss, but she won’t be. Because her show is on Facebook Watch.
There are so many ways to watch TV now that even Facebook has made a binge-worthy show. That’s great. We should celebrate good things, and Sorry For Your Loss is a great thing. But there is also some wisdom to that old phrase that tells us a good thing ceases to have tangible value when there is simply too much of it.