If Dan Slevin told you that one of the best TV shows about loss and grief was on Facebook, would you believe him?
Yes, it’s true. Sorry for Your Loss, a ten-part TV series from 2018 that stars the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Elizabeth Olsen and the Star Wars universe’s Kelly Marie Tran, is a surprising drama following the journey of a young woman dealing with the shock death of her husband and what that tragedy reveals about her, her family and their relationship.
It’s surprising because, even though it wears the comfortable and familiar clothing of American network television, it deals sensitively with some extremely heavy topics and is also unafraid for any of its central characters to display some unattractive behaviours as well as the charm you would expect.
But it is mostly surprising because of the place you will find it. Until this week, I was unaware that Facebook was commissioning professional TV content in competition with Netflix and Amazon Prime. I’m not sure that Facebook really knows this either, as this content is quite hard to find and even harder to watch on your living room screen.
If you look at your standard Facebook home page, you’ll find a small option on the left-hand column labelled “Watch”. This is ostensibly a shortcut to all the myriad amateur and pro-am video content that streams through your personalised feed. That stuff isn’t normally my bag so I’d ignored it. But Sorry for Your Loss is a professionally produced series with Hollywood production values and it was originally developed by the cable network Showtime. You’ll have to do a search to find it, but it is there and it is free.
Finding the show on the web (and it is described on Wikipedia as a ‘web series’) is one thing, but watching it from your couch with the family is another. Luckily, Facebook has created an app for Apple TV and other content aggregation boxes via Google. I understand you can also ‘cast’ the video to a compatible TV or TV device from the mobile Facebook app but I haven’t tried it.
Facebook Watch is a frustrating beast to deal with if you are used to apps from traditional streamers like Netflix. For a start, it will try and show you video shared by all your friends – insistently – then it will try and show you random videos that match the words you are searching for, and eventually you’ll find what you are after.
And then, once you have started watching, Facebook will superimpose a distracting plea to respond to what you are watching with one of the Facebook emoji by swiping on your remote. This need for constant “engagement” is the Facebook business model, as opposed to simply ‘time spent watching’ or even ‘continued membership’ which the other services care about.
Incidentally, are you as tired of ‘engagement’ as a synonym for ‘marketing’ as I am? I mean, engagement isn’t always a good thing. Cook’s first meeting with Ngāti Oneone was an engagement. But I digress.
Each episode of Sorry for Your Loss is about half an hour which – along with the largely domestic situation and the wisecracking hyper-articulate family dynamics – give it a slightly sitcom feel. But we are never too far away from a multitude of human tragedies: Olsen’s unexpected widowhood, her sister (played by Tran) is a recovering alcoholic, her mother (the great English classical actress Janet McTeer) is struggling to hold on to her business after spending her savings on her daughter’s rehab.
And there are ever-deepening themes of depression, anxiety and alienation which will be familiar to many people. The producers (and Facebook) include details of various mental health support services in their credits for the show.
With the streaming wars about to enter a new dimension with the imminent entry of Apple and Disney, one wonders what Facebook – with its piles of cash – could do in this space if it set its mind to it. While we wait for that, you can do a lot worse than check out Sorry for Your Loss.
Sorry for Your Loss is streaming from Facebook Watch. You can binge Season One today and then watch the first three episodes of Season Two. Facebook doesn’t have an easily discoverable rating or classification for their video content, but I would call this an M – young viewers should probably watch with a caregiver.