Tig Notaro’s ‘One Mississippi’ Is Excellent and Heartbreaking

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I pulled my headphones out of my ears after finishing the pilot for Tig Notaro’s new Amazon series, One Mississippi, ugly crying in a way that would make Kim Kardashian jealous. My husband looked at me in my stricken tableau and asked me “Are you OK?” I couldn’t give a straight answer. Through snot bubbles I said “I thought it’d be funnier?” Sob. “I mean, not that it’s trying to be funny and it’s failing. I don’t think it’s trying very hard to be funny.” Sob. “It is what it is, and what it is, fucks me up.” Sob.

What I’m trying to say is, One Mississippi is a very good show.

For people who are familiar with the last three-ish years of Tig Notaro’s life (ie: most Splitsider readers), One Mississippi is somewhat familiar ground. Notaro plays a fictionalized version of herself: a woman enduring an American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course of personal tragedies. The chronology of the traumas is different, as is Tig’s profession and backstory, but it’s still very much Tig. Recently double-mastectomied and still fighting an intestinal infection that almost killed her, Tig comes home to Mississippi to take her mother off life support. While she’s home, Tig has to figure out how to relate to her family with its focal point gone. Through flashbacks we see that Tig’s mother Caroline was the lively core of her family, the reason these people had anything to do with each other. As her stepdad Bill is quick to say in the first episode, “Technically, we have no legal connection, now that your mother is gone.”

Bill, played by Guiding Light’s John Rothman, is phenomenal to watch. Bill is the kind of person who clings to procedure like a life preserver, as if he’ll be saved from ever having to feel things if he just adheres strictly enough to the Right Way of Doing Things. The best parts of the show are the interactions between Tig and her sorta-dad. Their coping mechanisms are so incompatible. We can see they’re both suffering and longing for each other, but they can’t recognize that longing in each other. It’s like a really well done adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but about the father-daughter relationship. You find yourself yelling at the TV “JUST HUG ALREADY!” But they can’t hear you, because it’s a TV.

One Mississippi focuses on the gray areas that surround death: how long it takes, how fake it feels until it’s unbearably real. The whole show is about the process of accepting things as they are, rather than how we assume they’ll be. Everyone on the show (but especially Tig) has an idea of how things should be, which gets upended by the ugly realities of death. What should a mother be? A marriage? What does happiness even feel like? This “projection vs. reality” theme is really hammered home by the Imagine Spots that pepper every episode. Often we have no warning that one of these little hypothetical moments is about to take place. There’s no cutaway like in Scrubs or Family Guy, no blue lens filter like Veronica Mars. The only clue that you’re in an imagine spot in One Mississippi is that people are smiling and laughing. That doesn’t happen much otherwise.

On the dramedy spectrum, One Mississippi is heavy on the dram- and light on the -edy. Given the subject matter (death, disease, molestation), that’s hardly surprising. The tone is also not surprising, given the crew behind the scenes. Masters of the dramedy Louis C.K. and Diablo Cody produce, while half the episodes are directed by Please Give auteur Nicole Holofcener. Recognizable faces in front of the camera include cameos from Notaro’s Professor Blastoff cohorts David Huntsberger and Kyle Dunnigan, Tig’s wife Stephanie Allynne, and Casey Wilson as Tig’s super LA girlfriend Brooke. Her character is the most Diablo Cody-y part of the show. Wilson talks a mile a minute about psychic readings and the power of visualization and other Los Angeles mishegoss, while Tig is struck dumb by her inanity. Her scenes often feel like they’re from a different show — a comedy.

On the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, Casual showrunner Liz Tigelaar and Casual creator Zander Lehmann said that their show would have been a drama 10 years ago:

Tigelaar: I have to go back to shows like Catastrophe. You pitch Catastrophe now, that would have to be a comedy. But 10 years ago, that was enough to base a drama on. And Ijust feel like now dramas have to be so high concept.

Lehmann: You need to murder half of your main characters in the first season.

Tigelaar: And they’re vampires and spies; they’re spy-vampires.

The line between comedy and drama is blurring beyond recognition with shows like Casual, Louis C.K.’s Horace and Pete, and Orange is the New Black. Comedies used to need exceedingly punchy jokes to justify their laugh tracks. In this single-camera world, we don’t need jokes so much as astute observations. Something just has to be true, and the comedy will follow. And One Mississippi feels very, very true.

One Mississippi‘s first season will be released in full on Amazon tomorrow, September 9th.

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