Tackling Death and Grief on the Small Screen

Television shows can be a surprising resource, offering important examples of how people process grief and handle loss. Watching fictional characters struggle can actually help all of us learn how to better process these raw feelings.
Tackling Death and Grief on the Small Screen

Feelings of grief and sadness are pretty much universal, especially when we are reeling from the loss of someone special to us. As it turns out, there can be catharsis in seeing someone else grappling with similar emotions, making the representation of death and grief on our screens so important to highlight. Read on for some television titles that tackle the tough subjects. Warning: Spoliers ahead!

Six Feet Under

First premiering in 2001, this critically-acclaimed series explores the dynamic of the Fisher family who own and operate a funeral home. The Fishers are in the business of helping others deal with grief, but find themselves dealing with their own when their patriarch, Nathaniel, is tragically killed by a bus.

Laced with irony and dark situational humour, each episode shows a different family planning a memorial service at Fisher & Sons Funeral Home. This setup allows the iconic show to get into the nitty gritty of death and how different people deal with it, as well as reinforcing the fact that it is indeed a part of life.

Watch Six Feet Under here.

Black Mirror

The Black Mirror series covers a lot of ground, with each instalment offering a unique (and often mind-blowing!) take on some less talked-about topics.

In particular, the first episode of the second series titled Be Right Back follows Martha, whose boyfriend Ash has been killed in a car accident the day they planned to move in together. As she grieves, she is introduced to a new service that enables people to communicate with artificial intelligence that imitates a deceased loved one. Martha must confront her grief as well as the dilemmas which the new technological tool has given rise to.

Be Right Back was partly inspired by the question of whether to delete a dead friend’s phone number from your contacts.

Check it out.


The brilliant Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays the titular character of ‘Fleabag’, navigating life and love in London armed with dry wit and bravado. This facade seemingly helps her cope daily in the aftermath of various tragedies, while an inner monologue directed to the audience reveals more about the demons she is fighting.

Fleabag offers a realistic depiction of grief through the use of dark humour and candid insights of the relatable main character, who manages to be angry, grief-riddled, hilarious and raunchy all at the same time.

Meet Fleabag.

Grey’s Anatomy

Themes of sadness, death and grief go hand-in-hand with this medical drama, based on heart-wrenching events (think plane crashes, explosions, catastrophic weather events, pandemics, health scares and more!) at the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital (aka. Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital and then Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital).

The TV “cultural phenomenon” centres around Meredith Grey who is an aspiring surgeon and daughter of the great surgeon, Dr. Ellis Grey. It showcases the complications in the life of Meredith and those of her fellow surgeons while juxtaposing these with the complications in the lives of their many patients. 

Dive in to Grey's Anatomy here.

Amongst a slew of life-affirming quotes that have come out of the 18-season strong series, Meredith shares some notable words on grief as according to the late renowned psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

“There are five stages of grief. They look different on all of us, but there are always five: Denial. Anger, Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.”

Sorry for Your Loss

In this under-the-radar series, Leigh Shaw is a young widow who leaves her job as an advice column writer to move in with her mother and sister after her husband unexpectedly dies. She is trying to piece her life back together after the shocking loss only to find that grief does not necessarily have an end date, and often comes in waves (relatable, right?!).

As Leigh goes through the motions, feeling entitled to her grief as a widow, the series reveals that everyone else in her life is grieving the same person, but in different ways. Sorry for Your Loss is a heartfelt reminder that engaging with conversations with others and talking about a deceased loved one can be a transformational process.

Stream Sorry for Your Loss here.

The Leftovers

In this compelling post-apocalyptic drama, a global event has resulted in the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. The critically acclaimed show is set three years after this “Sudden Departure”, in a town where locals are still trying to work out a way to grieve while the possibility that their loved ones may return lurks in the background.

Amongst them are police chief Kevin Garvey and his family, grieving widow Nora Durst and her brother Reverend Matt Jamison who are left to pick up the pieces. Over the course of three seasons, these fictional characters undergo emotional journeys as they reflect upon their lives and their beliefs.

Binge The Leftovers here.

After Life

You could say that After Life is “required viewing” for anyone grieving or trying to support someone going through a period of grief. Its premise sees main character Tony (played by talented comic Ricky Gervais) deciding to punish the world and those in it by saying and doing as he pleases, in the wake of his wife’s death from breast cancer. This is how the depressed and suicidal Tony opts to deal with his pain, after initially contemplating ending his own life. His plan to unleash cruelty on everyone around him is undermined when his jeers are met with kindness, and he learns the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people when coming to terms with loss.

Click here to cue the ugly laugh-cries.

13 Reasons Why

This somewhat controversial television series revolves around highschool student Clay Jensen in the aftermath of the suicide of his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker. She leaves behind a box of cassette tapes, which are later discovered by Clay who finds them mysteriously lying on his porch. The cassettes contain recordings of an emotional audio diary detailing the thirteen reasons why Hannah chose to end her life, as well as the people she believes are responsible for her demise.

Through its various storylines the show carries emotional weight, having a lot to say about death, suicide and social issues affecting modern youth.

Find out here.

This Is Us

This well-received series chronicles the Pearson family over several decades, using flashbacks and flashforwards to follow the generational story, showing significant moments in the family’s history. The family consists of an unconventional set of triplets and their parents, who are all impacted by adoption, divorce, infertility and grief over their lifetimes.

Importantly, This Is Us portrays a diversity of responses to loss, including the ways in which grief can manifest in addiction if not properly managed. Through this representation, the series excels in highlighting the complexity and unpredictability of grief.

Get to know The Pearsons here.

The Good Place

The manicured grounds of The Good Place are the creation of Michael; the architect who oversees the town that you go to when you die… if you’ve lived a “good” life. In this whimsical exploration of the afterlife, four very different people who end up in the “good place” – some of them presumed by mistake – must band together to deal with chaos that has erupted in the utopian land.

The highly original show teaches that it is the knowledge that our lives will end that gives them so much meaning.

Go to The Good Place.

Dead to Me

At the centre of Dead to Me is an odd friendship that blossoms between two women – Jen and Judy – who meet in a grief support group. Jen is a widowed real estate agent whose husband was killed by a hit-and-run driver. She explores therapy, exercise and other methods to help her come to terms with her loss, after feeling pressure to find meaning and better herself in the early stages of grief. Instead, anger and resentment become the prevailing emotions. Judy has recently suffered a tragic loss of her own, but she is not entirely forthcoming about who she is or why she's in the grief support group, causing changes in, and challenges to, the women’s relationship.

This dark comedy presents the peculiar humour that can come with grief, loss and forgiveness. Watch it here.

Wrap up

Turns out there are heaps of shows out there that grapple with themes of death and grief, and the sadness that comes with them. So, next time you’re craving a relatable watch, grab some popcorn and the remote, and settle in for a night of binge worthy TV.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, or are worried about someone you know, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or https://www.lifeline.org.au

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