One Mississippi: A Single State (of Mind)

By: Joshua Bergstein

In recent years, many of the best shows on television have come not from television itself, but from the ever-burgeoning world of the Internet. Through its incredibly popular streaming service, Netflix has introduced the world to one amazing show after another, from prison drama Orange is the New Black to surreal animated comedy Bojack Horseman, from Master of None to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Though not every series it’s premiered has scored a bulls-eye, Netflix seems to have monopolized the business of original online programming.

It’s been tough work for the competition – particularly Amazon Prime, which has its own lucrative streaming service. Though Amazon has introduced a variety of its own shows (Mozart in the Jungle, Bosch), they’ve been generally middle-of-the-road, rather than great.

So it’s with a good deal of satisfaction that I declare that One Mississippi, Amazon’s latest new series, has the most promising debut season of – well, of any show they’ve ever originated.

Created by and starring stand-up comedian Tig Notaro, One Mississippi is a semi-autobiographical comedy/drama set in the rural quietness of small-town America. Notaro plays a fictional version of herself, returning home from her successful Los Angeles career to pick up the pieces after her mother dies.

The death of her mother, like so much else on One Mississippi, is incorporated from Notaro’s real life – and if you’re familiar with her background, you know her life has been something of a difficult one. In detailing the various aspects of Notaro’s past (including her still-recent battle with breast cancer), One Mississippi threatens to become too dark and unsettling for most viewers. But amidst the themes of post-traumatic issues, Notaro finds warmth and even humor. Believe it or not, in fact, there are some genuine laughs interspersed throughout this show’s first season.

It’s a unique tone, kept in check by Notaro and a talented supporting cast. Noah Harper is fun as Tig’s brother, whose joviality masks some connection issues of his own. Rya Khilsedt is well-cast as Tig’s deceased mother, appearing sporadically in effective flashbacks and fantasy sequences. And Casey Wilson is fun (albeit underused) as Tig’s supportive partner.

But it’s John Rothman who steals the show as Tig’s estranged stepfather. A longtime character actor with few major roles to his credit, Rothman strikes a perfect note between cold and quirky – his attitude towards Tig is standoffish and initially appears neglectful, but as we grow to watch and understand him, a more human figure emerges beneath the callousness. That the show can develop a supporting character so naturally over such little time is remarkable.

And indeed, One Mississippi has very little time (relatively speaking) to develop its story. At six episodes, the entire first season clocks in at just about two-and-a-half hours. Indeed, this premiere season could easily function as a single, cohesive movie – there’s free-flowing serialization between episodes, and the finale closes in a way that could very much function as an official ending.

One Mississippi is a quiet show, but it’s often a successful one.  While the running time feels a bit too short – some extra time spent with Wilson’s character could have worked wonders – it manages to convey a surprising amount of thought, emotion, and comedy in the space of just six brief episodes. Though Notaro’s life has braved numerous hardships, the end result is something that any willing TV fan can enjoy.

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