What if you don’t know how to leave?
In the first episode of One Mississippi, Tig Notaro stands over her dying mother as she’s taken off life support. She is obviously distraught, and yet some dark comedy emerges as she waits—and waits and waits—for her mother to finally stop breathing.
“What do I do now?” she asks the nurse.
This line applies to the whole of Notaro’s new semi-autobiographical Amazon series, which explores the comedian’s life after the death of her mother. In the same year, Notaro’s life also included battles with the intestinal disease C. Diff and breast cancer. In this gnarl of grief, sickness, and loss, One Mississippi takes certain bits she’s done onstage and puts them into context off, like when the hospital sends her deceased mother a questionnaire asking if she was satisfied with the service.
The series has some solid pillars: Louis C.K. co-executive produced, and elevated Notaro’s profile in 2012 when he put her confessional Largo set on his website. The pilot was co-written with Diablo Cody, and Notaro told A.V. Club she held up the film Young Adult as something aspirational.
Like Young Adult, the heart of One Mississippi is the timeless homecoming tale. In the pilot, which debuted on Amazon last November, Tig tells a touching story on her weekly radio show about how her stuffed animals made up the patrons of her imaginary restaurant when she was a kid. These stories form the foundation of One Mississippi, and when she has to record her show from a studio in Bay Saint Lucille, Mississippi, she meets Kate (played by Notaro’s wife Stephanie Allynne), who becomes a channel for some of the issues Tig’s struggling with, though we don’t really get to know her.
The 2015 Netflix doc Tig explored the beginnings of Notaro’s relationship with Allynne, as well as her mother, who, she says, helped shaped her sense of humor. Notaro’s 2015 special Boyish Girl Interrupted added more background.
What is One Mississippi, then? Part of a pileup of shows that pull from a comedian’s real life (Louie, Take My Wife, Lady Dynamite, Master of None) to make sense of bigger questions. The show makes no mention of Notaro’s successful comedy career, which took off after her cancer diagnosis, and that’s probably intentional. Instead, the comedy comes from her deadpan delivery in the most emotionally trying of situations.
Her stepfather, Bill (John Rothman), is a hard read, whereas her brother, Remy (Noah Harpster), is a little too open. Tig is somewhere in the middle, though her delivery isn’t quite the same as it is onstage. As she goes through old photos, we learn about childhood trauma. In a later episode, she looks at her mastectomy scars in the mirror, and so do we. She discovers her mother had a secret family. These aren’t played as life-changing moments, just speed bumps.
And yet, we don’t get a definitive picture of her mother across six episodes, just glimpses of moments the two shared, or imagined conversations. “Did you have fun tonight?” her mother asks when Tig returns from the hospital. “No, not tonight,” she replies. “You died.”
Some of the flashbacks disrupt the narrative flow, and a few of the relationships feel shoehorned in, like our brief meeting with girlfriend Brooke (played by Casey Wilson). The show is best when Tig’s trying to relate to her extended family, particularly Bill, whose closed-off, button-up demeanor is the perfect canvas for her observational pokes.
Even those interactions feel too brief at just six episodes. If One Mississippi leaves us wanting a little more time with it, perhaps that’s the point.