One Mississippi: Tig Notaro has created a truly miserable comedy. It's wonderful

The standup has turned a very bad year – in which her mum died, she almost died and she was diagnosed with breast cancer – into breathtakingly tender TV

Amazon has a different definition of comedy than the rest of us. Its big runaway comedy hit of the last few years has been Transparent, a series where a family of listlessly mumbling entitled brats do nothing but relentlessly explore their navels in depressed ways. And, let’s not forget, its biggest show of the autumn is a comedy series by Woody Allen, whose last film but one was about an alcoholic murderer who at one point tries to kill himself in front of some children. It isn’t exactly Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Even by these standards, One Mississippi has to count as its most miserable yet. This should be no surprise, given that it’s a quasi-autobiographical retelling of comedian Tig Notaro’s very bad year. The year where, in the space of four months, Notaro endured an almost fatal bout of C diff, the unexpected death of her mother, the end of relationship and a breast cancer diagnosis.

If you’re aware of Tig’s work, you’ll know all about these. They were detailed in her magnificent standup album Live (rhymes with “give”), recorded nine days after she learned about her cancer, as well as her Netflix documentary Tig and this year’s memoir I’m Just a Person. However, One Mississippi feels less like a retread of old ground and more a fresh new retelling. Laughs aren’t exactly front and centre – the first episode covers the death of Tig’s mother and her funeral, the third about her confronting her mastectomy scars – but it all feels authentic and intimate. Moments of warmth rise up organically. Nothing feels forced.

It feels like the perfect vehicle for Notaro. Her delivery, as seen in her standup, her talk show appearances and her much-missed podcast Professor Blastoff, is monotone and muted. This can work wonders when she’s telling an absurd shaggy dog story like her routine about the “No Moleste” signs on Mexican hotel room doors, but it’s an absolutely perfect fit for something as fiercely grief-stricken as One Mississippi.

The dusting of fictionalisation – Notaro has claimed that the series is “85% autobiographical” – also helps it feel fresh. During the series Notaro is sometimes visited by her dead mother – played by Rya Kihlstedt from Dexter, the show with perhaps history’s most annoying dead parent – and her socially awkward stepfather played by John Rothman apparently bears little resemblance to her real stepfather.

Additionally, One Mississippi’s behind-the-scenes talent is breathtaking. The series was co-created by Diablo Cody and executive produced by Louis CK. Tig’s wife Stephanie Allyne, from the very funny improv group Wild Horses, wrote one episode. And three episodes were directed by Nicole Holofcener, who made the vastly underrated rom-com Enough Said. All these figures have a shared happy/sad sensibility, each able to wring true meaning from the mundane.

Which isn’t to say that One Mississippi is mundane. Far from it; the themes it deals with are as big as they get. But the way they’re dealt with – all shot through with Notaro’s detached worldview – is beautifully small and human. It takes time to linger over details that other shows wouldn’t. One Mississippi is a wonderful, tender show. Just don’t expect your sides to split.

Contributor

Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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