By Jim Sabataso
Blame my tardiness in reviewing “One Mississippi” on friction — that is, the digital barrier created when streaming platforms like Amazon are not easily available on devices like Apple TV. You’d think taking the minimal extra step of connecting my laptop to my TV to access Amazon’s streaming video service wasn’t that much of a hassle, but apparently it is. Perhaps a better word to describe this phenomenon is laziness.
At any rate, I’m here now, so let’s talk about “One Mississippi” season two, which premiered on Amazon in early September. The 30-minute comedy stars standup comic Tig Notaro as a semi-autobiographical version of herself, who moves back to her hometown in Mississippi to be with family after the one-two-three punch of being diagnosed with a grave intestinal illness, undergoing a double mastectomy for breast cancer, and having her mother die unexpectedly. For the record, that all happened to Notaro in real life.
Where the first season dealt with Tig settling in to life alongside her rigid, emotionally unavailable step-father Bill (John Rothman) and underachieving brother Remy (Noah Harpster), season two sees the trio each attempting to find themselves and what makes them happy.
Tig’s confessional radio show gets a boost when it’s picked up by a big-time radio network, which affords her a larger audience to tell her stories to — stories which have gotten increasingly political and personal. Indeed, politics — especially around gender, sexuality and race — looms large in season two, with the specter of Trump and what he represents lurking throughout several plot lines. More on that later.
At work, Tig remains smitten with her producer Kate, played by Notaro’s real-life wife Stephanie Allynne. The two have an easy, sweet chemistry onscreen that makes it all the more frustrating (in a good way) to see Tig pine away as she waits for Kate to come to her senses.
On the family front, Bill’s character gets more depth this season. He’s still the rigid stick-in-the-mud who, in one of this season’s more dryly funny scenes, lectures his adult step-children on proper dishwasher loading procedures, but we also see a bit more of his life outside his step-children. Finally, ready to move on after the loss of his wife, he finds himself taken with Felicia, a woman who works in his building who is every bit the stickler for order that he is. Sheryl Lee Ralph helps make the courtship a delight to watch, as she matches Rothman in some of the most affectless, matter-of-fact flirtation you’ll see on TV this year.
Remy, meanwhile, starts dating Desiree, a woman he meets at church with a big personality and a big heart, who knows what she wants. Before Remy can blink, he’s in a serious relationship, but there’s something holding him back that remains mostly unexplored by the end of the season.
As the show engages its southern setting, it is careful not to make the people around Tig and her family appear as liberal caricatures of southerners. We’re not made to laugh at these characters as much as we are invited to consider the way they see the world.
Desiree, for example, is extremely religious, but even as some of the things she said and did had me, as a viewer, rolling my eyes, the show never makes her the butt of the joke any more than other characters.
Similarly, Tig’s bewilderment that Martin Luther King and Robert E. Lee share a holiday in her hometown is relatable to anyone with a basic understanding of American History and the causes of the Civil War.
In another episode, Tig’s brief encounter with some people who want to help her “pray the gay away” is played for laughs, but it doesn’t make people like that any less real. Don’t forget, our current vice president is someone who has advocated for such programs.
More trenchant, however, is a visit to a private hospital, in which she is denied entry because she’s homosexual. Notaro leavens the scene with some fantastic deadpan retorts, but her outrage is palpable and justified. This is something that happens in 2017, and it’s absolutely unacceptable.
The big reveal of last season, was Tig coming to terms with her molestation as a child at the hands of Bill’s father, her step-grandfather. This season explores that revelation in more depth, as it is held up as an extreme example of the kind of predatory male behavior society is finally, belatedly, willing to call out.
It was an unfortunate coincidence that I watched this season in the same week the New York Times story broke about comedian Louis C.K.’s history of sexual misconduct with female comics. A major subplot of season two is an incident in which one of Tig and Kate’s male bosses at the radio station masturbates in front of Kate during a meeting.
The scene is a direct reference to C.K., who is an executive producer on the series. In August, Notaro, who hasn’t hesitated to speak up about these rumors in the past, once again called on C.K. to fess up. Three months later, he finally did.
Notaro has always been a brave comedian. Her breakthrough performance was a raw, personal story delivered on stage days after she found out she had breast cancer in 2012. After her double mastectomy, she performed part of her 2014 HBO special topless.
Confessional comedy is nothing new — look no further than C.K.’s own work — but Notaro manages to elevate it above a merely self-serving act. As critic Jesse David Fox put it in a recent piece in Vulture, implicit in confession is the ask for absolution. However, the honesty displayed by Notaro in sharing her personal experiences — her illness, her grief, her surgical scars — is “to help (her) audience, to improve society.”
All this adds up to a slightly darker season of television that is light on jokes, but no less satisfying. Notaro is one of comedy’s most relevant and honest voices right now. While that might not translate to big laughs on “One Mississippi,” it continues to be a charming and endearing show — and that’s good enough for me.
CHECK IT OUT
“One Mississippi” is now streaming on Amazon Video.