Content warning: sexual assault
Tig Notaro’s very autobiographical dark comedy television series One Mississippi is a “fish out of water who can’t go home again” story, but the fish does go home to find the pond hasn’t changed a heck of a lot. Notaro’s protagonist, Los Angeles radio host Tig Bavaro, goes home to fictional Bay St. Lucille, Mississippi after surviving breast cancer but while suffering from a literally killer case of C. difficile infection. She arrives to help her stepfather Bill, played by John Rothman, and younger brother Remy, played by Noah Harpster, take her mother off life support after a fatal fall.
Tig, Bill, and Remy confront past trauma and massive amounts of denial as Tig sorts through photographs, jewelry, and clothing. Tig can’t look at the result of her double mastectomy in the mirror for the first couple of episodes. Also, despite her brutal honesty with Bill and Remy about being molested by her grandfather when she was younger, she tiptoes around her assault in her Mississippi radio broadcasts — perhaps surprising given that she’s transparent about being gay, being sick, and being sad about the loss of her mom. After the initial distance and anger, Tig, Bill, and Remy begin to heal, as individuals and as a family.
Healing starts with Bill when he begins fussing after Tig about her health issues. Rothman’s Bill is regimented to the minute, even missing out on his wife’s last breath to ensure Bonkers, his senior cat, eats at the correct time. The actor, though, infuses Bill’s anxiety with love as he lectures Tig about her illness and wrangles her to an appointment with a specialist whose experimental treatment actually saves the day. Tig and Bill connect through an odd transfusion (I won’t spoil it here), and Tig regains her health.
As she improves, Tig realizes that her life is in Mississippi for now, since L.A. was in shambles even before she left. She breaks up with her uber-New Age valley girlfriend, Brooke, portrayed with authenticity and nuance by Casey Wilson, and crushes on Kate, her seemingly straight new producer, played by Notaro’s real-life wife Stephanie Allyne. Harpster’s Remy, portrayed with underdog charm and a shocking lack of self-awareness, teases Tig about chasing a straight girl while Tig pokes him in the eyes about still living at home in the attic, daydreaming about lingerie models, and avoiding having real girlfriends since high school.
Season 2 opens during the post-election Trump Era, and the writing team uses reality as a springboard for fresh plot-stirring and joke opportunities. Tig’s new radio show in Mississippi, produced and sort of co-hosted by Kate, takes off after a slight hiccup — the conservative sponsors and listeners hate hearing about lesbians coming out, children getting molested, or Robert E. Lee being judged for his crimes against humanity, so sponsors dropped out. Luckily, a big-name radio broadcaster loves their show and hires them on the spot. Tig insists that they are a partnership because Tig and Kate’s radio chemistry is real enough that Tig “pictures growing old with Kate… holding her hand.”
Kate, admittedly bicurious and obviously into Tig, makes the first move but on their first day with the new company assures Tig she’s not gay, only sees them as friends, and wants to move on. Tig, disappointed but not a jerk, moves on, to Kate’s chagrin. Hijinks ensue. So do fireworks, metaphorically speaking. As do fireworks for Bill, who meets an insurance agent with his penchant for schedules and order, and Remy, who meets a single mother who sells breast milk for profit. The results are mixed, as the family must recover and move forward from Tig’s childhood trauma.
One Mississippi falters a bit in Season 1. There is plenty of family dysfunction, rife with jokes, but not many plot points to move the story forward. The absurdist fantasy moments don’t always land. But Notaro, a laid-back introverted stand-up comedian and podcaster, is a gem, and her laconic humor, along with Tig and Remy’s close bond, save the day. Harpster and Notaro have a way of grinning sideways at each other that warms the screen. Rothman, too, once he allows the love to shine through the lecture, endears himself as a loving father in denial. In Season 2, current events are written into the show, effectively ramping up character arcs and plot.
It should be noted that the show pulls zero punches with trauma. Tig faces herself from the abdomen up when she comes to terms with losing her breasts. Notaro, in her opinion not an actor, shows immense bravery in this moment. Then, when Tig tells the full story of her molestation on the air, Remy listens with his new girlfriend/fiancée Desiree, portrayed by Carly Jibson with a claustrophobically “positive Christian” outlook (keep an eye out for her “What Would Jesus Cook” apron and Tig’s response to it). But Desiree is layered with empathy and an open heart. She holds her infant daughter close and asks him a string of questions that open Remy’s eyes to his part in the abuse.
I found the production’s response to the #MeToo movement especially brave. The rock star production team of One Mississippi originally included Tig Notaro, Diablo Cody, and Louis C.K. Louis C.K. is a prominent alleged abuser, having been reported by multiple women, and it was a shock to see his name in the credits of this particular show — especially one that addresses this particular content. However, the writers did not shy away from the allegations against Louis C.K. Instead, they wrote them in. Without giving everything away, Kate experiences a trauma similar to the actions alleged in the Louis C.K. cases. This event drives Tig to open up, which triggers Remy to realize the trauma it caused him and Bill, and moves all toward admission and recovery. Though the show comprises only two seasons, it’s easy to imagine the family almost whole again in another five or six.
Created by: Diablo Cody and Tig Notaro
Starring: Tig Notaro, John Rothman, and Noah Harpster
Available to stream on Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime