Grief and television don’t often go hand-in-hand. To be honest, grief doesn’t really go hand-in-hand with anything — it’s its own entity, we know. But grief and TV can be particularly poor partners.
For starters, there’s the grief brain, which makes watching TV nearly impossible at times. If you manage to get past that, there’s the absolute difficulty of watching characters get their happily ever after, their happy ending, their love conquers all, when it’s all been ripped away from you. Even worse than watching a happily ever after is watching a character suffer a loss and bounce back in the next episode. (Feeling like you want to either throw something at your TV or write a sternly worded letter to the producers is common here.)
Despite all of that, TV can also be a balm for a grieving heart. Shows that depict grief well have the capability of making you feel less alone in a time often defined by feeling alone. To help identify the right shows, Scary Mommy rounded up eight shows the depict grief well — or at least well enough that you won’t want to throw something.
Full disclosure — as a widow, I have a soft spot in my heart for any and all widow shows. Dead To Me starring Christina Applegate is no different. In the first few episodes, she’s reeling from the sudden death of her husband and struggling to solo parent and support her children’s grief alongside her own. When she meets another widow at a support group, things take a turn away from grief proper, but the show does an excellent job of portraying the early days of grief, how there’s no easy fix or silver lining to make it better.
Sorry For Your Loss (Facebook Watch)
I missed this gem, but the rest of my widow’s group did not. The series stars Elizabeth Olsen, a young widow trying to cope with the death of her husband, while everyone around her tries to cope with that death, too. The series shows how everyone struggles in different ways with the loss of the same person.
Wandavision (Disney+) – Potential Spoilers Ahead
Another series starring Elizabeth Olsen. Wandavision is based on the Marvel Comic character Scarlet Witch, AKA Wanda Maximoff, and at first glance — superpowers and comic books — there doesn’t seem to be much grievers could relate to. And yet, the series spoke to all of my grief. The way Elizabeth Olsen’s character struggled to cope with her loss, the way she warped reality to undo her loss, it was supremely realistic, even if it involved magic powers and super-human strength.
At one point, in discussing her grief, Wanda says, “It’s just like this wave washing over me again and again,” she continues. “It knocks me down and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again.” Yes. Exactly.
To understand this show, you do need to have some familiarity with the Marvel universe — but one thing is definite regardless of your MCU familiarity: grief is grief, even at the superhero level.
The premise of this family drama is how a single, soul-crushing loss can impact you throughout your life. For that reason, This Is Us, is excellent for grievers. The Pearson family lost their patriarch, and the show depicts how that loss is woven into each of his three children’s lives and his widow’s life for decades to come.
This Is Us is also an example of why this round up is subjective. Some shows that help one griever might not help another. Personally, I had to stop watching this show after they revealed how Jack Pearson, played by Milo Ventimiglia, died. That episode aired the day after my husband died, and even thinking about it still makes me nauseous.
A Million Little Things is an ABC family drama that follows a family and close circle of friends after one of them dies by suicide. This show has it all — a grieving widow struggling to figure out what’s next, children dealing with grief, and friends trying to figure out how to be there for themselves and each other. Grief, in all its iterations, is often well-depicted, particularly when it comes to the children’s loss of their father.
Inspired by Mindy Kaling’s real life, this coming-of-age show tells the story of an Indian-American girl reeling from the death of her father, while also navigating adolescence, cultural differences, and her relationship with her surviving parent. Only one month into the show’s second season, Netflix already renewed for season three — evidence that it’s worth checking out.
The Unicorn follows widower Wade, played by Walton Goggins, as he navigates life as a solo dad to two teenage daughters after the death of his beloved wife. This show has more light-hearted moments than other shows on this list, but it includes some accurate depictions of dating as a widow or widower that anyone also navigating this world will find relatable.
Ricky Gervais stars in this series about a devastated widower who decides that he’s going to cope with life post loss by punishing the world around him. That includes insulting people around him and being generally horrible. While this show got mixed reviews from critics, for grievers, it shows an oft taboo part of grief — that anger. At everyone and everything.
Grief is a part of life. For a long time, our culture swept grief under the rug, pretend it was something that could be dealt with in a long weekend or a two-part special. That’s changing. The conversation around grief is changing. These shows, and others like them, are helping pave the way. And helping folks feel a little less alone — which is invaluable, whether you’re six weeks into grief or six years.