You can be a great storyteller without the element of truth, but there’s no easier way to forge a connection with an audience than by opening a vein on stage, and few have crawled the blade as far up their arm as Tig Notaro, an uncommonly good storyteller with an uncommonly painful personal narrative that she shares, often, when on stage.
If you know who Notaro is, then you likely know the list of misfortunes that have befallen her, but here’s a recap: In 2012, Notaro contracted a severe intestinal infection that practically turned her into a skeleton, dealt with the sudden death of her mother from a fall, received a breast cancer diagnosis, and had a double mastectomy. Notaro has covered her fight through that period of her life in a famous set at The Largo in 2012 performed days after her cancer diagnosis, in Tig (a Netflix documentary), and on stage. Now it provides the inspiration for Notaro’s new Amazon pilot, One Mississippi, produced by Louis C.K. (who also released Notaro’s 2012 Largo performance with 2013’s Live) and Diablo Cody.
Comparisons to C.K.’s Louie are inevitable thanks to vague stylistic similarities like the use of flashbacks (and an absurd daydream sequence) and the show’s score. But while C.K. uses his “life” to comment on society and on his own neuroses, One Mississippi plays things closer to the bone, at least in the pilot. Notaro’s character has a girlfriend who has decided to crash her grief (Casey Wilson, bubbly and mildly clingy), a mostly apathetic brother (Noah Harpster), a stepfather (John Rothman) who’s clinically dead on an emotional level for most of the episode, and a mother (Beth Burvant), whom Notaro has traveled from Los Angeles to take off of life support. Future episodes (assuming Amazon picks this up, which they should) will likely deepen our understanding of Notaro’s relationship with her mother (which she describes in Tig as one that had “up and down” moments but ultimately one of deep love), allowing for a chance to see how her character works through the loss.
Such weighty material doesn’t typically lend itself to humor, and this isn’t a laugh-out-loud show. But it’s clever and representative of Notaro’s sharp wit, specifically in scenes set at the hospital where she deals with a shrugging medical staff and the bizarre priorities of her less-than-ideal support structure.
It seems likely that One Mississippi will fixate on those kinds of interactions and Notaro’s reactions to the weird world around her going forward in an effort to keep this show comedic. But this is essentially a fish-out-of-water story about a wounded character, returned to a home that’s absent the one element that made it feel like home — her mother.
It would be a shame if we didn’t get to see how this all works out, especially since there’s so much personal truth on the screen and Notaro has soldiered on in real life. There’s also a poignant moment and an ever-so-slight smile at the end of this episode that suggests peace might be within reach for Notaro’s character. It’s as happy an ending as one could expect, but it plays more like a beginning.
One Mississippi is available for free digital streaming on Amazon right now.