If you’re going to ask an audience to wallow in tragedy, you better have a point to make, and “Sorry for Your Loss” has yet to find a fresh one. Through four sullen, slow-moving episodes, Kit Steinkellner’s Facebook Watch series — directed, in part, by “The Spectacular Now’s” James Ponsoldt — is little more than a meditation on death, offering a turgid reminder that the end is inescapable for us all and can be devastating for those we leave behind.
Fun, right?! Oddly enough, the half-hour drama does dip into the black comedy arena from time to time, as Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) tries to
move on from endlessly relive her husband’s death. That it’s only been a few months since Matt (Mamoudou Athie) passed away does little to dissuade the peculiar, unsuccessful attempts at humor, though getting the audience to grit their teeth and whisper, “Too soon!” to some of Leigh’s acerbic comments is arguably a better reaction than nothing at all.
Ostensibly, “Sorry for Your Loss” is about a family recovering from losing a loved one. There’s Leigh, of course, who reminds everyone she is the most aggrieved person here because she was married to Matt; a fact repeated enough times in one episode to make it a running joke within the half-hour. Her younger sister, Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), is dealing with her own issues. She recently jumped on the wagon (mainly because of her brother-in-law’s untimely demise), and now she’s trying to navigate sobriety through the foggy lens of mourning. Clouding said lens further is their mother, Amy (Janet McTeer), who not only runs the household, but also the business for which both young women work.
The entire cast is saddled with an onslaught of emotional baggage to sift through. While the premise is heavy enough on its own, there aren’t many distractions offered by way of demanding jobs (both women teach fitness classes), monetary restrictions (the business may be operating on thin margins, but the family wants for nothing), or impending legal battles (no drugs, fights, or other drama demanding a courtroom). In short, the path has been cleared for each member of the family to think, talk, and act upon whatever emotion they’re wrangling at the moment.
Given they’re all grappling with the same primary problem — their beloved family member is dead — their arcs can be too similar. Some internal conflicts arise, but even those turn repetitive within the first two hours, and the stagnant plot is only magnified by individual character inconsistencies. Jules shifts from a passive-aggressive, cold-hearted sibling to a considerate, cheery friend to a whiny, “why aren’t we focusing on me?” narcissist. Tran does what she can to liven up individual scenes — the inexplicable joy she finds in a ’90s-themed dance scene is an accomplishment in her own right — but Jules is all over the map even when she’s tied to a shallow arc.
But if Jules can be hard to pin down, then Leigh is far too easily defined. Olsen’s character is stuck in one step of the grieving process: She’s angry. One could argue she’s also clinging onto denial, considering how long she spends reliving old memories, but her human interactions are consistently filled with rage. The show embodies her bitterness, doing everything it can to make the good times great and the bad times torturous. The stark contrast between the past’s brightly lit scenes, where Leigh and Matt were together, and the present’s “Saving Private Ryan”-esque color desaturation is blunt enough, but the actual scenes, as written, are often on the extreme ends of joy and sorrow. Leigh and Matt didn’t just find a place they identified as home, they loved their apartment so much they sang and danced the first time they saw it.
Exaggerated details like these spoil the kind of raw authenticity “Sorry for Your Loss” relies upon for its power. That the show dangles information about how Matt died without ever telling the audience what happened — like a more morbid version of Jack’s mysterious death on “This Is Us” — only makes the series feel shallow. Through four episodes, the most intriguing question is based on the idea that Leigh may not have known her husband that well, but he’d have to be freaking Batman for the reveal to be worth the investment. The official synopsis argues “that grief is not something merely to endure, medicate away or ‘muscle through,’ but an essential part of the human experience.” Too bad there’s nothing essential to glean from this particular grieving.
“Sorry for Your Loss” premiered its first four episodes at the Toronto International Film Festival. Those episodes will debut Sept. 18 on Facebook Watch, with two new episodes each following Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.