The user interface of Facebook’s new streaming platform made it fast and easy to become absolutely devastated by their first big budget script. Five stars.
Everyone is making TV these days. Disney is making TV. Snapchat is making TV. Instagram is making TV. Amazon have been making TV for a while now. Hell, I’m probably making TV. Look behind you. Did a low-fi, high-concept script and a B list actor just suddenly appear out of nowhere? Congratulations, you’re making TV.
With so many companies shifting away from the box-set format and towards subscription streaming services, it can seem a lot like we’re doubling back on the progress Netflix has made in the past decade. Moving all your original content off foreign streaming platforms and creating your own seems like a great way to transport us back to 2008 when everyone just pirated everything.
Through this corporate mayhem, Facebook might be emerging as an unlikely saviour. Facebook Watch, a video-on-demand service that relies on partners for content and splits revenue 45/55 respectively, has been around since 2017. Its first year of existence was centred around short-form and already extant content, with the few original series trickling in from online content heavyweights like Buzzfeed and Vox.
Big deal, you say. You can get all the Buzzfeed and Vox you can handle on (shocker) Buzzfeed and Vox, you say.
Correct. In September 2018, however, Facebook Watch released the first season of Sorry For Your Loss, giving a taster of things to come and flexing their more-than-just-an-inferior-YouTube muscles.
Sorry For Your Loss is a low-budget scripted drama starring A-lister Elizabeth Olsen about grief. And, I’ll admit it. The first series passed completely under my radar.
It’s not hard to imagine why it was released to seemingly little fanfare. The more streaming platforms crop up, the less we can expect cross-platform advertising, and Facebook hasn’t exactly been making waves in the Gen Z community lately. It’s one of our least used social medias.
But the second season of Sorry For Your Loss dropped in its entirety on Facebook on 1st October and managed to drum up a little press. And, as this article attests, press begets press. I decided to check it out.
I devoured the 20 half-hour episodes of both series as if I was a suburban white girl and they were the dregs of the world’s last Turmeric Latte. (Incidentally, I am a suburban white girl and don’t believe anyone should be judged for their beverage choices or otherwise so stick that up your nether Piers Morgan).
Sorry for Your Loss has a tough premise to sell. It centres entirely on death and its aftermath. When we meet Leigh, played by Olsen, she is three months into the grieving process for her husband, Matt, who died suddenly.
We encounter grief often in storytelling, but almost always as a peripheral character. It dips in and out of conventional narratives, adding weight to character’s backstories and shoehorning depth into otherwise shallow moments. Grief is often a plot driver, but rarely is it the plot itself.
This is because grieving people make us uncomfortable, both in real life and on screen. Other elements of shared experiences – love, marriage, coming of age – we languish in time and time again. But death, possibly the only true human constant, we avert our gaze from. We don’t like being reminded of our own mortality, or of what awaits us when the first person we love dies.
Unlike other narrative complications, grief isn’t the sexy kind of sadness that can be unburdened when the hero’s full potential is realised or they find true love. It’s the ugly, messy, unavoidable kind of sadness to which there is no cure. A one-note plot. And, unlike with most fictions, the catharsis of ‘well at least this’ll never happen to me’ isn’t there for you to grab hold of. We are all going to have to face the death of a loved one at some point.
Other shows that are ostensibly about grief alleviate this problem of squeamishness by pretending they’re about something else. The Leftovers, a show I fiercely argue is one of the best pieces of TV ever created, tries to ease the discomfort by wrapping the whole idea in high-concept sci-fi. Showtime’s new drama, Kidding, has Jim Carrey to lure people in, but still seems afraid of getting too close to the feelings of loss that are ripping his character apart.
By choosing to be unashamed and in-your-face about its subject matter, then, the showrunners of Sorry For Your Loss could reasonably expect to struggle to get people through the door, let alone entice them to stick around. The potential for feelings of ‘why the hell am I doing this to myself’ is high.
The drama does two things to compensate for how much a bummer it may otherwise seem.
Firstly, it understands that whilst grief as a process is monotonous, human emotions rarely are. Leigh is obviously devastated by the complete upheaval of her life, but the show still has room for moments of humour and mystery. At its core, Sorry For Your Loss is a family drama, and the delicate dance her mother and sister must do in order to support and uplift her in the wake of Matts death is at once funny, gut-wrenching, and too rarely depicted in mainstream media.
Leigh’s resistance to the industrial complex of graceful grieving also provides some laughs, all the more human because they come through her pain; sweeter for the surrounding sourness.