Brow Beat

Sorry for Your Loss Moves at the Slow Pace of Mourning

There’s too much telling and too little showing.

Elizabeth Olsen in Sorry for Your Loss.
Elizabeth Olsen in Sorry for Your Loss.
Facebook Watch

Death is scaled down to domestic proportions in Sorry for Your Loss, the new Facebook Watch drama starring Elizabeth Olsen and Kelly Marie Tran. Recently widowed Leigh Shaw (Olsen) is often caught unawares by death’s sudden and unexpected intrusions into her everyday existence: the uncontrollable outburst that escapes her lips just before a group therapy session; the nagging discovery that she can’t unlock her deceased husband’s phone; the abruptly strained relationship she has with her New Age–y mother, Amy (Janet McTeer), whose every woo-woo suggestion for coping with grief becomes an occasion for Leigh’s latest snipe. The serialized nature of television—or whatever we’re calling Facebook Watch—makes it an apt medium to explore the accretion of small but unmooring revelations that mourning can be.

Insightful and conscientious, Sorry for Your Loss is fine as Pamphlet TV (or should we call it Twitter Thread TV), a sensitive, well-meaning illumination of a difficult topic that doesn’t quite add up to a compelling series. Created by Kit Steinkellner, the half-hour drama, which clips along at a trotting pace despite its largely doleful tone, offers a spiky lead performance from Olsen, the intriguing against-type casting of Tran as Leigh’s newly sober sister Jules, and an alternately hard and soft McTeer as a tender mother losing patience with her older daughter’s sharp tongue and younger daughter’s chronic irresponsibility. In extensive flashbacks, we also meet Leigh’s husband Matt (Mamoudou Athie), a slightly awkward comic book nerd who can turn on the suave when the moment calls for it. Matt’s sweetness contrasts with the acidic remarks from his brother Danny (Jovan Adepo), who keeps up a bizarre yet understandable one-sided competition with Leigh over which of them knew Matt better—and thus who misses him more. Danny’s passive-aggressive jabs at Leigh are bracing in their pettiness, which shield from view the confusion he feels about what kind of relationship he’s supposed to have with his sister-in-law now that their sole mutual connection is gone.

All the characters are theoretically interesting, particularly Leigh as a young woman who’s angry that the ambitious life she’d planned could be derailed so instantaneously, and whose natural cynicism prevents her from taking comfort in the traditional rituals of mourning. Also promising are the parallel tracks that Leigh and Jules have ahead of them in their journeys toward normalcy. But while the show’s observations about the unforeseen forms that grief and loss can take are smart and sympathetic, there’s too much telling and too little showing, at least in the first four episodes that debuted together on Facebook this week. (Two more will arrive each Tuesday.) Packing up the house that Leigh and Matt shared, for instance, Jules is suspected of relapsing when she rushes out the door and Leigh finds all the pills missing from the bathroom cabinet. When Leigh confronts her, Jules says she didn’t want to assert her own grief in the presence of her sister, who’s hurting even more, and she couldn’t stand feeling Matt’s absence in the house where he once lived. (The pills ended up in the trash.) The scene radiates emotional intelligence, but because we have next to no idea what Jules’ relationship with Matt was like—Amy has to jump in to explain that he was the one who bonded the Shaw women together, since the flashbacks haven’t already established it—we’re simply presented with character development that we’re supposed to nod along with, rather than feel it ourselves.

Meanwhile, there’s something a bit morbid about the way Sorry for Your Loss keeps the cause of Matt’s death a mystery, particularly since the manner of his demise is nearly as important a character detail (for the entire cast to react to) as the fact that he’s dead at all. Good intentions and all-around excellent performances can’t make Sorry for Your Loss add up to the sum of its parts. Its keen sensitivity points to the dearth of grounded, relatable shows about loss, but falls short of filling that gap itself.