Watching “One Mississippi” feels like laughing at a funeral. The Amazon original, justly advertised as a dark comedy, falls somewhere between having a fantastic sense of humor and being seriously messed-up. As the show explores weighty themes — death, loss, illness — a bitter hilarity levitates the grief, just like that inappropriate smile that loves to wickedly curl during a sad story.
Inspired by comedian Tig Notaro’s (“In A World”) life, the series follows a version of Tig as she returns to her hometown in Mississippi after her mother’s sudden death. As she copes, heavily relying on sarcasm and deadpan jabs, she is forced to face her own mortality in the aftermath of her recent cancer treatments. While her twisted humor can often read as apathetic, perhaps it’s Notaro’s aloofness that makes “One Mississippi” so endearing. It’s almost as if Tig is learning to walk all over again, taking her first steps in a world that is completely unfamiliar.
Grief has many faces; it can be cold and hot, loud and quiet, sometimes even completely silent. “One Mississippi” delicately illustrates a spectrum of mourning through the strained relationship forced between Tig and her stepfather, Bill (John Rothman, “Ghostbusters”). Bill, a serious and reserved man, is completely removed from the humor that Tig uses to cope with tragedy. Riddled with obsessive-compulsive-tendencies, he actively distances himself from sentiment. Yet, however absent he seems at the beginning, the series meticulously chips away at his cold exterior to reveal a genuine care for Tig. In “Effects,” the second of the six episodes released on Amazon Prime, Bill’s rigorous internet search for treatments of Tig’s C Diff (a bacterial disruption of the colon) leads to the episode’s gut-wrenching punchline: a fecal transplant. The joke seems juvenile and uncomfortable, which is perhaps what makes laughing irresistible. But despite the slew of poop jokes that Tig doesn’t hesitate to share, Bill offers to be the fecal donor without hesitation. Maybe that’s what family is all about?
While comedy is often used to take a break from the sadness, the series employs a beautiful artistry in its treatment of tragedy. The script isn’t packed with dialogue or soul-searching monologues on the meaning of life and death. Instead, pain and sadness are best articulated in just a few, well-selected words. On the night before the funeral, Tig’s girlfriend, Brooke (Casey Wilson, “Happy Endings”), tells her that tomorrow is a big day. “Every day is now a small day,” Tig replies.
As she retraces her steps throughout her hometown, Tig remembers her mother, Caroline (Rya Khilstedt, “Home Alone 3”) in a series of flashbacks. Dressed in vibrant florals with a metallic snake coiled around her forearm, Caroline ironically breathes life into “One Mississippi.” Memories of her are filled with laughter and spunk, characteristics that are devoid in the shattered family she left behind. She is the source of happiness which, by itself, is laced bittersweet.
While at times the acting feels stilted and the characters detached from their surroundings, the series is relatable to anyone who needs a little laughter to ease the pain. The soundtrack is riddled with the same irony, as Tig cues “One of Us is Dead” by The Earlies. It’s delicate and sarcastic; funny, yet unthinkably tragic.