We gushed about this new series on Facebook Watch (yes, it’s a thing) in our podcast on Friday, but we just can’t seem to keep our mouths shut about it, so we’re going to talk some more. It’s not that surprising that we still have things to say because Sorry For Your Loss is a show seemingly designed to get under your skin – not in an irritating way, but an emotional one. Like the grief it portrays so effectively and poignantly, Sorry For Your Loss sneaks its way into your thoughts and doesn’t seem to want to let go of them.
Having said that, in watching five episodes of the series, we have yet to come away from it feeling sad or depressed, even if many of the characters clearly are. It’s not a mopey series, even if it does re-open old feelings for anyone who’s grieved a loved one (which is, of course, most of us) or suffered chronic depression. So far, it’s too tender-hearted a series to be unpleasant or heart-wrenching. We’d hate to be the critics who fall back on the facile generalism “IT’S ABOUT LIFE,” but really, isn’t any examination of the fallout from death ultimately a tale about the living and how they get on with it? Doesn’t any endeavor that seeks to examine grief ultimately have to be about hope? Doesn’t a story of loss naturally ask to become a story about overcoming that loss? In some senses, Sorry For Your Loss refuses to be that neat about it, even as it also refuses to wallow in darkness. Maybe, the show seems to be saying so far, maybe grief isn’t necessarily “about” anything. Maybe it’s just a fact of life and literally everyone has to go through it in their own way.
This, to us, is the great underlying theme of the show; not the nobility of grief and not even the messiness of it. In this show’s depiction, grief is a droning grind that seems to go on endlessly while the rest of the world, to the aggrieved’s increasing annoyance, continues to spin on, with an increasing pressure for them to simply get over it. Or at the very least, to stop bumming everyone else out.
To that end, the series is anchored (although that seems too mild a word) by the simply amazing performance of Elizabeth Olsen as Leigh, newly widowed and frankly, pretty pissed off about it. The series opens with a monologue of her anger as the camera stays extremely tight on her face and it’s not only an acting slam dunk, but a simply stunning way to open a series. An uncomfortably close portrait of a woman’s face as she struggles to maintain a control she doesn’t even seem to believe in. And to the show’s credit, we never see her lose that control in the first five episodes. We make no predictions about where the show is headed, but part of the appeal of these early parts is how much the emotional displays are tamped down on; how often the conversations amount to two people struggling to be seen and heard while at the same time clearly unwilling to completely open themselves up. Anger is expressed sharply, but conversationally. Arguments are quiet affairs where the most important parts are the ones left unsaid.
We keep using the phrase “so far” in this review. There’s a reason for that. Since it’s clear the characters – living and dead, because quite a bit of time is spent on flashbacks – are all on emotional journeys of one sort or another, it’s hard to believe the relatively gentle and poignant tone of the story won’t change as more of it unfolds. So far, we’re falling deep into a story about people with a lot going on under the surface, but an unwillingness or inability to convey it directly to the people around them. This is almost seductive, since these themes of not being understood or not being heard are so easily applied to anyone. But to call the emotions “simmering” is to underplay the tension quite a bit. As much as we want to convey that Sorry For Your Loss is gentle and poignant and beautifully acted (because it is all of those things), it works so well because you really can’t tell if or when a certain rock might be overturned and something ugly or loud or unpleasant gets uncovered or unleashed. And okay, yes: that’s Just Like Life. Sometimes, the direction is so beautifully subtle, the dialogue so on-point and the emotional aspects so well-rendered that it feels like you’re watching a documentary of some sort.
As noted, the acting is wonderful throughout, with the emotional center of the story coming from the interactions between Olsen and her mother, played by Janet McTeer, and sister, played by Kelly Marie Tran. All three actresses are coming off of high-profile fantasy-based work (Olsen for Avengers: Infinity War, Tran for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and McTeer for Netflix’s Jessica Jones series), which makes the quietly poignant and delicately crafted aspects of all their performances that much more impressive. Mamoudou Athie, as Olsen’s husband, is quietly wonderful, offering a portrayal of an African-American male character that challenges and broadens the limited ways they are portrayed in most media. He’s nerdy, unsure, sensitive and in an exhausting struggle with chronic depression. His scenes with Olsen are infused with both affection and tension in sadly equal parts; a very “lived-in” portrayal of marriage and struggle.
It occurs to us that we’ve avoided much in the way of spoilers but really, it’s not that kind of story. Not so far, anyway. While there’s a part of the plot that deals with Leigh uncovering the reality of who her husband really was and how much she didn’t know about him, it doesn’t strike us as the sort of thing that’s going to take wild twists and turns. We could be wrong and there might be some last-minute shock, but for now, we’re riding out the feelings and seeing where they take us. It’s very much worth your time.
YES: JUST LIKE LIFE.
Go here to watch all the episodes.