Death is never what you expect. Despite what movies and music have told you for decades, the world doesn’t stop turning. When you lose someone close to you, you don’t have the luxury of staying in bed to grieve. Life still keeps marching on, whether you want to go with it or not. Strangers and friends will tell you all about how your person touched their lives; you can choose to believe them or not. Family members will act weird, processing their grief in their own ways. Whether or not the death was expected or a horrible surprise, there is no way to sufficiently prepare. There are no pounding drums or fireworks. Your person is gone, whether you believe life just stops or that they’ve been ushered on to a better place.
While grief is seismic in its own way, on the surface, it is terribly mundane. It is the little, day to day reminders that hurt the most. Their laugh is gone. The way they dance is gone. You probably didn’t even realize that their last words to you were actually their last words. Tig Notaro understands this in a profound way. In her new Amazon series, One Mississippi, when told by her girlfriend, Brooke (Casey Wilson) that she should rest the night before the funeral because “tomorrow is a big day,” Notaro responds in an achingly real way: “It is actually a very small day, because my mother is not in it. Every day from now on will be smaller. The town is smaller. I am smaller.”
Notaro plays a fictionalized version of herself in One Mississippi, turning one hellish year into a profoundly good six episodes. After surviving a horrific bout of cancer that led to a double mastectomy, the Tig of One Mississippi is currently suffering from an acute case of colitis as well as grieving the death of her mother in the pilot episode. As she leaves behind her career as a “story DJ” in L.A. to be with her family in Mississippi, Tig’s pain, both physical and emotional, is apparent immediately. As she shuffles onto screen, her body ravaged by the various diseases trying to kill her and her spirit wounded by such a loss, it’s unclear if this show will be a comedy at all.
It is, and it isn’t. Anyone who has been exposed to Notaro’s stand-up will recognize her wry, deadpan delivery, and it works well here. Notaro co-created One Mississippi with Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult). Louis CK (Louie, Horace and Pete) serves as executive producer and Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said, Friends with Money) as director. These are all people who excel at telling sad stories in a knowing and funny way, creators who care for their characters while also allowing them to be unrelentingly flawed.
At its core, One Mississippi is about the different ways people process grief. Tig’s brother Remy (Noah Harpster) chooses to ignore the pain and continue on in his emotionally stunted lifestyle. He will miss his mother, but as long as he can keep living in her attic well into his late thirties and participate in Civil War reenactments on the weekend, his life won’t change that much. Tig reacts with anger and suspicion. Her mother was healthy, until she fell, hit her head, and quietly bled to death while watching Jimmy Kimmel. With a death that strange and seemingly preventable, Tig looks for someone to blame. That someone becomes her stepfather, Bill (John Rothman).
While Notaro is certainly a talented performer and does excellent work, the stand out performance of the series comes from Rothman. Bill is a man who lives by a meticulously planned schedule, and any wavering is seen as a moral failing. While some people fall apart when faced with the after effects of a death, Bill pulls himself together so tightly that you expect the mask to crack at any moment. He also struggles, as many stepparents do, with his role in the lives of Remy and Tig now that they “aren’t legally family” anymore. As he and Tig work through the secrets that come to light and the awkward ache of familial tension, the parent-child bond between these two is one of the most beautifully realistic in recent years. While Tig may not always care about herself, Bill does, whether he wants to admit it or not. His concern over her intestinal pain is touching, and with her mother Caroline (Rya Kihlstedt) no longer around for him to care for, he focuses his energy on Tig’s illness. While his awkwardly formal attempts to help her may not always be appreciated by Tig, their growth towards a more caring relationship is beautiful to witness.
As a comedy, One Mississippi probably won’t often make you laugh out loud. Honestly, you are probably more likely to weep openly about a chair. It’s a profound reflection on the nature of grief and growing older, however, and one that shouldn’t be missed.
All episodes of One Missippi‘s first season are available now via Amazon Prime.