One of the trickiest aspects of dark comedy is that you can’t analyze (or experience) any of the parts and get much out of it. There aren’t any zingers, guffaws, or wild snippets that are in any real sense “comedic” when removed from the whole. You can’t zoom in. You can only try increasingly to pull back and see the whole picture. Dark comedic drama only magnifies this. Worse still, anyone aiming at such a genre has to have a viewpoint that is going to aim at any objective by slyly sneaking around the outskirts of possibility, hoping to sneak up behind their mark.
Tig Notaro‘s One Mississippi is such an odd approach to the very format of television that it becomes hard to describe without qualifying every statement you might make about it. It isn’t just that we’re riding along as she navigates oddball characters, or that the show is rather dark, but it’s about someone who has a radio show (that is itself rather non-standard in format) and we watch her do it. What you can pull out of things pretty quickly is that it’s mostly deadpan, extremely dry, and the most entertainment you could probably get out of Tig is actually if you had the chance to just hang out with her for a couple days.
It might seem like the worst sort of negative statement to suggest that the “comedy” television show in question, or perhaps her comedy specials, aren’t quite as entertaining as the imagined adventure that would be wandering aimlessly through “a day in the life,” but simply transporting viewers into her world is, more or less, the premise of the show. The show is often funny, but it involves a lot of misdirection. When you work through the first few episodes of season one, zooming in on post-death scare, post-pulling the plug on Mom, post-mastectomy life you can hardly imagine wanting to tune into that sort of depression, but all I could think about was how magically, misanthropically joyful it is.
As we roll into the second season, which is sadly only six episodes, we need to establish Tig’s return to Mississippi in order to avoid rebranding/recasting. Luckily, Kate (Tig’s real wife, Stephanie Allynne), the producer helping Tig remote host her show while she’s been in Mississippi, offered Tig a spot at her radio station. In keeping with the show’s tradition of just not having any idea where life is going to go, Tig decides to give it a shot and winds up living with Bill (John Rothman), her step-father, and Remy (Noah Harpster), her brother, again.
Solidified into our same routine, the second season begins exploring new ground as everyone in the show fumbles into new relationships. Remy moves in a new girlfriend almost before he could confidently pick her out of a line-up, Bill stumbles into his perfect counterpart when a medical issue leaves him mostly helpless in an elevator, and Tig and Kate zigzag around each other as sponsors begin to flee the show’s openly gay and occasionally assault-focused content.
The show has a notably different, somewhat confused, feel to it now that it’s trying to vary its focus, and many of the efforts don’t hold up to the rest of the show. The show’s power in the first season came from breathing an almost unprecedented reality into somewhat bizarre characters, and Remy’s girlfriend feels out of place. The show may spend a fair amount of time building toward the curiosity of the relationship, but she stills feels like an excuse to have someone deny the existence of dinosaurs and screw with Bill’s thermostat.
Still, though the show is developing out of the bleak landscape of Tig’s health scares and her mother’s death and introduces characters to broaden the scope of life’s horrors available to explore, we’re running through Tig’s ability and effort to process what’s thrown at her. As much as the show serves as semi-comedic entertainment, its biggest draw is its ability to deliver a connection to her perspective, as well as that of anyone who rarely makes it through a day without wtf-ing at least half of everything that happens. It isn’t merely an exploration of a certain situation and circumstance, but also of all those dark, sarcastic, perhaps somewhat misanthropic individuals who have to get through the mind-numbing morass that is other people.
The second season spins us ultimately into a realm that doesn’t adhere quite as strongly to the dark dramedy genre (that I might have made up), largely because it wants to spend a lot more time away from Tig, but it still has the feel of something that loses its ability to converse with you without seeing the whole. You can walk in on the conversation with the Chandler Bings of the world and grab hold of where you are pretty quickly, but wander into Tig’s stories midstream and you’re going to get thrown.