Comedy is tragedy plus time. This is an adage that comedian Tig Notaro has certainly taken to heart. Her latest project, Amazon’s “One Mississippi,” finds comedy during one of the darkest periods of Notaro’s life.
The show follows Tig’s return to her hometown in Mississippi following her beloved mother’s unexpected passing. Throughout the show, Tig is visited by visions of her vivacious mother, Caroline (Rya Kihlstedt). For as highly as Tig thinks of Caroline, the show deftly uses these flashbacks to highlight both the best and the worst in the woman. Grief isn’t the only thing ruling Tig during this period of her life. She had just successfully battled breast cancer, but lost both her breasts during a double mastectomy. On top of that, she suffers from a rare stomach disease that she struggles to keep in control. All in all, Tig finds herself at a crossroads. She’s unable to properly figure out where to go next in life and how to take care of herself.
Notaro’s dry wit works so well throughout the show. As the stakes and traumas pile on throughout the six episode season, it helps to have the show anchored by her quiet, aloof confidence and subtle humor. Never once does the show veer into melodrama or cliche. Turning a family tragedy into a more traditional comedy without changing the facts is a hard task. However, it is a tight walk that the show walks expertly. The tragedies and confrontations are more cathartic than they are dramatic. There’s a sense of release and coming together that is so essential to the show, and what makes it so easy to digest.
For as essential as Notaro is to her own story, the runaway highlight of the show is the complicated, prickly portrayal of her stepfather, Bill, by John Rothman. Bill appears cold to his stepchildren following the death of Caroline. Bill’s a well-mannered, precise and unemotional man. This contrasts perfectly with his stepchildren looking to grieve. Much of the conflict arises from these fundamental differences in dealing with grief. However, it’s Bill’s warming heart that yields the greatest belly laughs and heartfelt moments of the show. Noah Harpster is also quite good as Remy, Tig’s younger brother who still lives at home and can’t quite get things to go his way. As the comic relief, he serves his purpose well. However, it is the interplay between Notaro and Rothman that is the stuff to really watch.
One of the strongest episodes in showcasing the strong, yet fragile familial bonds is the third episode, entitled “The Cat’s Out.” The family has to lead a search party for Bill’s cat after Tig unknowingly let it out. The search party extends to Tig’s biological father, a more stereotypical example of what people reside in Mississippi. Still, it’s a joy to watch this unconventional family try to solve a simple problem, only to find themselves facing more pressing issues they need to deal with.
In terms of longevity, it will be interesting to see how much further the show can go. Being so personally related to Notaro’s own specific personal journey, the concept may have limited mileage. In essence, much of the events here were touched upon in the documentary “Tig.” This can give off the appearance that there isn’t much new here with the series. While the broad swaths are still the same, it’s rewarding to watch this flawed family figure their way out from under tragedy. Whether that is in small ways, such as finding a cat, or in dealing with deeper wounds within the family, the show always remains interesting.