Most of us would do anything to avoid the process of grieving, though we’re often eager to watch fictional characters go through it — 10 million This Is Us fans can’t be wrong, after all. The new 10-episode Facebook Watch drama Sorry for Your Loss (premiering Sept. 18) presents a wry look at bereavement through the story of a millennial widow who has willfully put down roots in the second stage of grief: anger.
After losing her husband, Matt (Mamoudou Athie), Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) is filled with quiet rage — and the only thing that pisses her off more than the cosmic unfairness of his absence is the sympathy she receives from the world around her. Even the murmurs of “thanks for sharing” from fellow widows at her support group annoy Leigh; she waves them off with a curt “okay.” Of course, misery is paradoxical, and just as Leigh abhors things like the titular condolence, she lords her pain over her mom, Amy (Janet McTeer), and sister, Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), all but demanding that they excuse her sullen moods and hurtful barbs. “I gotta go to grief group, because my husband died,” she huffs at Jules in a typical interaction.
In the first four episodes, Sorry for Your Loss hits most of the notes we’re used to seeing with these types of stories: Leigh scoffs at Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; lashes out at a perky young widow (Lauren Robertson), only to soften toward her later; and fumes, “I’m just mad all the time.” What’s more interesting than Leigh’s grief, though, is the family experiencing it with her — Matt’s death brings all the complex and uncomfortable dynamics between the Shaw women and Matt’s brother Danny (Jovan Adepo) to the fore. Jules, a recovering addict and the Shaw family’s resident screw-up, resents the latitude everyone gives Leigh for her bad behavior, though she secretly relishes being “the good child for the first time ever.” Meanwhile, New Agey Amy faces two struggling daughters and a floundering business (a gym dubbed Beautiful Beast). She’s starting to realize that relying on the universe to manifest the life you want sometimes amounts to shouting into a howling wind.
Of course, Leigh learns Life Lessons™ from her husband’s death, but not in a mawkish, carpe diem kind of way. Instead, losing Matt forces Leigh to see herself in an unflattering but wholly accurate new light. The nature of Matt’s death is not immediately made clear, but Leigh’s memories, sharpened with the clarity of hindsight, reveal a woman who was pushy, officious, and judgmental even in her happiest moments. Did she encourage Matt to pursue his dream of creating a comic book, or did she “take something he loved and turn it into a homework assignment,” as her brother-in-law insists? Is Leigh’s anger at her father (Don McManus) justified, or she just holding him to “impossibly high standards” so she can feel superior in her disappointment? Olsen gives a disciplined and sharp performance; her Leigh is mean and acerbic in the way grieving people on TV don’t usually get to be, which makes her moments of vulnerability all the more effective. If you’re looking for a cathartic cry, stick with This Is Us; Sorry for Your Loss is best when it turns its focus from grief to all the ways the living can be better in the face of death. B