Facebook’s Sorry For Your Loss – A Gripping Story About Grief & Mental Health
Facebook has had a rough go of it lately. In September, it was revealed that a security flaw was exploited and credentials were stolen from an estimated 50 million users – users who were likely still on edge after that whole Cambridge Analytica scandal. And the company has publicly struggled to control and remove hate speech from its platform. AND, a recent New York Times exposé revealed the lengths to which Facebook’s executives went to cover everything up. With all the controversy going on, it’s easy to miss the stream of quality shows Facebook is rolling out via Facebook Watch, its ever-growing content arm. Zuckerberg and co. have a genuine hit in Red Table Talk, on which Jada Pinkett Smith broaches taboo discussions about marriage, sex, and blackness. But perhaps Facebook’s biggest content achievement, though not its most-watched, is Sorry For Your Loss.
Sorry For Your Loss centers around Leigh (Elizabeth Olsen, in a vulnerable, captivating turn) as she copes with the unexpected death of her husband, Matt. When the season starts, she’s just three months removed from this life-changing tragedy, and she’s struggling to move forward – as I imagine anyone would.
Leigh isn’t instantly likable, a trait we often expect from show protagonists. As she navigates her new life without her husband, she has moved back home with her mom, the affirmation-spouting owner of a fitness studio called Beautiful Beast, and her adopted sister Jules, who’s a recovering alcoholic in as much need of healing as she is. Leigh is prickly – she claws back when prodded, she’s tentative about sharing her feelings, she has no room in her heart or mind to process other people’s feelings. Her life is as joyless as one would expect when you lose a spouse without warning and early in your marriage.
But Leigh’s lack of likability is different from say, Hannah Horvath’s on Lena Dunham’s HBO series GIRLS. Hannah was a directionless twenty-something who was self-absorbed and seemed to revel in making bad decisions. Leigh, on the other hand, is more adult, maintaining employment through a devastating loss and navigating tense family ties at a time when she’d probably benefit from avoiding them.
As the series goes on, it quickly becomes clear that Leigh is more than her grief. She is flawed, yes – she has a near-meltdown when her grief counseling group serves crudité instead of doughnuts – but she’s also reconstructing her life in real time. When she attends a friend’s wedding and runs into the florist from her own ceremony, your heart breaks with hers. When she attempts to uncover a difficult truth about her husband while talking to her mother-in-law, the revelations from that conversation leave her – and the viewer – raw.
Sorry For Your Loss could have easily become a maudlin cryfest, designed to be nothing more than Facebook’s This Is Us. The diversity is there for sure – Leigh’s husband Matt is black, her adopted sister, played by the wonderful Kelly Marie Tran, is Asian – and the story is told through several flashbacks that tug at the heartstrings. But midway through the series, the story goes somewhere unexpected. No spoilers here, but this show shifts from an exploration of grief into a deep dive about mental health. It’s weighty stuff for Facebook but the depth is a welcome surprise.
By no means is this the first scripted show launched via Watch, but it does feel like the platform’s first real attempt – it’s Facebook’s first viable contender for awards season. It’s a show you could easily imagine on Amazon Prime or Netflix. It doesn’t have stylistic flair – the colors are muted, there’s no camera trickery – but it’s well-executed, has three-dimensional characters, tackles a somewhat taboo topic, and takes advantage of telling this story outside of the restrictions of network TV.
I admit, when I first heard that Facebook was taking a deeper (read: more expensive) plunge into the content pool, I had doubts. Why would anyone want to watch a TV show on Facebook? You’ll get notifications about your mother-in-law’s birthday while you’re watching a pivotal scene wrought with emotion and heartbreak. It’s kind of like the annoying person that texts through a movie at the theater, but now that person is Facebook. However, once I watched this show, I not only fell in love with the characters and story; I was truly moved by the quality.
It’s disappointing that Facebook has been so mired in controversy that Sorry For Your Loss has taken a backseat to juicier topics like Russian election interference via fake Pages. This 30-minute drama deserves your attention. If you like dramas with emotional heft and a slight edge, this is a must-see. If you like Elizabeth Olsen (here playing the polar opposite of her flighty social media influencer in Ingrid Goes West), this will solidify her as one of your favorites.
Without giving anything away, Leigh’s story ends on a hopeful note that leaves room for a second season. Her grieving process hasn’t attracted the fanfare of Red Table Talk – many episodes have less than a million views while Talk regularly tops 20 million – but this is a story worth developing. Sorry For Your Loss is proof that Facebook’s content ambitions aren’t ridiculous. If they could only deal with those pesky privacy issues.