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.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
One Mississippi: Tig Notaro bares her scars in intensely dark comedy
The comedian draws on her experience of cancer, family trauma and death to create a sitcom some viewers may find hard to take

Brian Moylan

09, Sep, 2016 @2:56 PM

Article image
Catch-up and download: from One Mississippi to Poldark
Tig Notaro’s sad-com manages to be bleak but funny, while Simpsons star Harry Shearer’s podcast offers up a ramble through hot-button issues

Phil Harrison

03, Sep, 2016 @8:00 AM

Article image
Best TV of the week: Atlanta, One Mississippi and Oprah’s latest drama
A hip-hop comedy, a sugar-cane family epic, a bitcoin thriller. This is a busy and diverse week

Brian Moylan

05, Sep, 2016 @7:58 PM

Article image
The 50 best comedians of the 21st century
From apocalyptic standup Frankie Boyle to the many hilarious faces of Tina Fey, Steve Coogan, Sharon Horgan and Kristen Wiig, we present the funniest people of the era

Hannah J Davies, Paul Fleckney, Harriet Gibsone, Brian Logan and Stuart Heritage

18, Sep, 2019 @2:45 PM

Article image
Crush of the week: Tig Notaro
The comedian hits all the right buttons, which is why she makes us laugh and cry in equal measure

Bim Adewunmi

01, Aug, 2015 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tig Notaro at SXSW: 'I feel compelled, like I have a purpose'
She’s the comic who announced she had been diagnosed with breast cancer live onstage and, when she had recovered, performed topless. It’s no wonder Notaro has such a strong bond with her audience

Alex Needham in Austin

19, Mar, 2015 @7:58 PM

Article image
One Mississippi: Tig Notaro's cancer comedy embraces triumph and tragedy
Notaro is the latest comedian to take her troubles and turn them into prestige dramedy. Unlike some recent attempts, she rises to the challenge

Charlie Lyne

10, Sep, 2016 @8:00 AM

Edinburgh festival: Amnesty Secret Comedy Podcast episode 12, with Tig Notaro and Janeane Garofalo

Janeane Garafolo tells host Mark Dolan about seeing the light and Tig Notaro reveals what kept her laughing through cancer

Amnesty International UK

27, Aug, 2013 @10:30 AM

Article image
Tears of clowns: who are the saddest of TV's sad comedians?
Television shows built around standup comics have taken a turn for the despairing. Louis CK has a lot to answer for

Simon Miraudo

25, Aug, 2017 @6:58 AM

Article image
Their lives are a mess, but TV’s new heroines make us all feel better
A new wave of shows are being told through a woman’s perspective, from sharp-tongued Fleabag to the darkly honest One Mississippi

Sarah Hughes

10, Sep, 2016 @11:04 PM