Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
A young widow, played by “Avengers: Endgame” star Elizabeth Olsen, struggles to make sense of her world after the sudden, untimely loss of her partner. She finds herself bereft, struggling to make sense of a future that now looks impossibly bleak, and attempts — sometimes through destructive behavior that hurts herself, as well as everyone around her — to reconcile not just the sorrow of losing her husband, but also the destruction of her hopes and dreams. In the process, Olsen utilizes all of the tools in her acting toolbox, finding new ways to spark empathy in viewers, always finding new levels in her sadness and rage, but also protecting the small moments of joy and hope that crop up, unbidden, as she attempts to unknot her grief without undoing her soul.
For all the similarities that can be drawn between the above description and Olsen’s dynamite performance at the center of Disney+’s “WandaVision,” it’s actually a little-seen Facebook Watch show that demonstrates the breadth of Olsen’s range, the 2018 two-season drama “Sorry For Your Loss.”
Peak TV is a double-edged sword, in which the sheer number of content providers means there’s more room for stories to be told. Small stories, in particular, have thrived with the expansion of streaming TV, giving quieter narratives, once destined to be told only through independent film — if at all — the opportunity to explore their subject matters with more time and depth.
The downside, of course, is that while Peak TV allows for exponentially more stories to be told, it also means that there’s more competition for viewers than ever before and that series on less-established networks and streamers can easily be overlooked for sheer lack of exposure.
That’s certainly not a problem for “WandaVision.” The first TV project from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that comes anywhere close to capturing the large-scale storytelling and stunning production values of its film franchise appears to be bewitching Marvel fans and luring them en masse to the series in a way that prior TV ventures, including ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Netflix’s “Iron Fist,” never did.
Courtesy of Disney+
Throughout “WandaVision,” which concludes on March 5 with the finale, audiences have raved about Olsen’s performance, peaking with the eighth episode, in which the series finally allowed the titular Wanda Maximoff to process some of the grief at the loss of her partner, Vision, that she’d been staving off since the show began. For fans who only know Olsen for her work as the Scarlet Witch within the MCU, this is one of their first opportunities to experience the true range of the actress’ abilities and they are impressed, to say the least.
But for fans who’ve been keeping tabs on the actress since her 2011 breakout performance in Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” this newfound appreciation for Olsen’s abilities comes not as a surprise but as an inevitability.
Which is all to say that if you think that Olsen’s acting abilities in “WandaVision” deserve Emmy attention, you haven’t seen anything yet. The truth is that while Olsen is doing great work on the Disney+ series, her performance might actually be shown up by the work of supporting actress Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness, recently revealed to be an evil mastermind manipulating Wanda’s world.
To see Olsen’s true dramatic chops, you need to turn to “Sorry For Your Loss.”
In the two-season series created by Kit Steinkellner and frequently directed by independent screenwriter and director James Ponsoldt, Olsen plays Leigh, an aforementioned young widow who is coping with life after the mysterious death of her husband. Through the 20 episodes we see both Leigh and her friends and family — featuring outstanding performances from Jovan Adepo, Kelly Marie Tran, and Janet McTeer — as they learn to move forward and attempt to prevent the tragedy from further fracturing their lives.
The entirety of the series lives and dies on the back of Olsen’s performance. Grief is nonsensical in the best of times, as our minds struggle to make sense of loss and in “Sorry For Your Loss” the subject matter is further complicated by Leigh’s husband’s history of depression and the hazy circumstances around his death that suggest it might not have been accidental.
Courtesy of Disney+
Olsen seamlessly slips between emotions, from anger, to denial, to frustration, and beyond. So much of her pain is transmitted by only her eyes and at times she appears like a zombie, only a flicker of life in her gaze, like a candle cowed by the wind.
As much as I’m loathe to recommend anyone visit Facebook, “Sorry For Your Loss” is worth the trip, for Olsen alone.
Which is not to say that the actress isn’t doing incredible work in “WandaVision.” If nothing else her great dramatic work is buoyed by outstanding comedic work, the likes of which we’ve rarely seen from Olsen. She has no right to be that convincing when stepping into shoes stolen from the closets of classic sitcom luminaries, channeling her best Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore and, hell, Jane Kaczmarek.
To that end, Olsen definitely belong in the Emmy conversation, not only to make up for lost time regarding her work on “Sorry For Your Loss,” but to honor her work on “WandaVision” which showcases her tremendous dramatic talent and, even more impressive, introduces her as a true comic delight.