“Don’t blame me. I didn’t even vote.” That’s the kind of thing you can expect to hear in Donald Trump’s America, as people shrug into existence a society of prejudice, hostility and denial. It follows that we should also expect to hear it on our televisions, as series set in the contemporary US of A continue to tell their stories against the dramatically changing political landscape.
Ah yes, you might think. Political shows. Topical satire. But one Mississippi, Amazon’s semi-autobiographical drama by comedian Tig Notaro? The one that explored her grief after losing her mother, and dove into the trauma of surviving cancer? No, of course not. Why would that bother to tackle Donald Trump?
But tackle Trump this show does, as it returns for a superb second season. Because One Mississippi is, at its heart, Tig Notaro’s story, and Tig is someone who cares about Trump. It’s only natural, then, that she should discuss how his election win affects her life.
If that sounds like a radical shift in direction for the series, you’re forgetting just how good One Mississippi is. With Diablo Cody and Louis CK on its exec producing team, it’s a programme that moulded an achingly personal tragedy into something universally profound and amusing. Season 2 manages to expand its scope without ever losing that intimate focus, shepherding us through a painful national calamity to a place of laughter and even hope. Yes, the season about Donald Trump.
The two chapters in what feels increasingly like a deliciously weighty novel share a sense of disorientation, as we see Tig and her family blindsided by changing circumstances – circumstances that aren’t directly related to the White House, but aren’t helped by the rising strain of intolerance and growing cries of Christian patriotism that are rippling through society.
The ripples primarily skim across the life of Remy (Noah Harpster), Tig’s brother, who finds himself a new romantic interest in Deiree. Played with irrepressible enthusiasm by Carly Jibson, she’s the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to bring her emotional baggage and plonk it on the dining table in front of everyone. And so she and her toddler effectively move in with Remy, as his room becomes flooded in children’s toys – and the freezer fills up with the breast milk Deiree saves up and sells online.
While it’s entertaining to Remy overwhelmed by the sheer force of her well-meaning personality, as she sweeps him off to church and sucks him into her taste in comedy and food, it’s a delight to watch her clash with Remy and Tig’s dad, Bill. John Rothman was a scene-stealer in One Mississippi’s first season, but here, he gets the chance to steal entire episodes, as he remains wonderfully uptight at almost every opportunity – he’s the kind of man whose idea of a heart-to-heart with his son consists of saying “I need to go over dishwasher procedure with you”.
Bill, of course, is still processing grief like the rest of them – but he begins to show signs of almost loosening up, a change in mood that’s brought about by an encounter with Felicia (Sheryl Lee Ralph), a work colleague who’s almost as straight-laced as he is. (Their meet-cute revolves around their precise time-keeping, which means they always catch the same elevator in the morning. Chocolates? Why bother when you can read each other the instruction manual for a central heating system instead?)
Watching Rothman’s nervous, awkward old man tolerate the women who circle around him at the local nursing home, hoping to pinch his broken heart for themselves, has always been a joy. But watching him grow as a person, starting to smile more often and even disregarding his strict daily schedule, is hugely rewarding.
One Mississippi’s strength lies in that ability to make the show more than just about Tig: it’s a generous ensemble piece that allows each member to develop and find new nuances to their personalities. Notaro, though, is far from overlooked: in just three hours of television, she still has her own journey, which sees her come to terms with being a fish-out-of-water among younger creative types, learn to progress from the loss that weighed down her first season, and even attempt to accept her brother’s new significant other.
Notaro was fragile enough to bring us to tears in Season 1. In Season 2, she’s stronger, steelier, and more sarcastic – there’s a resilience to her lined face and world-weary smiles that makes her even more likeable the more time we spend with her. It’s a natural evolution of her candid stand-up patter: we literally share her dreams of what’s to come, and her frustrated fantasy outbursts at strangers. In real life, meanwhile, she’s just as engaging, always bringing wise perspective to other people’s conversations, and never shying away from the chance to correct an idiot.
Idiots, of course, are everywhere these days – and in Notaro, One Mississippi has the perfect foil for Trump supporters: a sharp-tongued, kind-hearted, level-headed intellectual, who will gladly call out homophobic hospitals and relishes the chance to talk about any subject, regardless of who it offends. (In short, she’s the polar opposite of Deiree, who thinks that dinosaurs weren’t real.) That attitude, however, doesn’t go down so well in 2017, and Tig and her producer, Kate (Stephanie Allynne), find their radio show rapidly losing sponsors, as they broach taboo topics such as abuse and sexism. It’s a perfect echo chamber for the series to contrast the honesty of a confessional with the dishonesty of the country, a neat microcosm for what the show, at its heart, is doing: simply giving a strong, smart woman a platform without control or censorship.
As Kate becomes victim to nasty male harassment in the workplace, which the managers try to deny, the rest of the cast face similar obstacles that capture the intersect between post-truth humanity and everyday human existence: inspired by Felicia, Bill discovers (many decades too late) about the horrors of slavery and can’t stop apologising to her relatives, while Remy is confronted by his Vietnamese friend over the casual prejudice of his buddy. “Now he’s got permission to be racist,” she points out, as Remy looks at her, uncomprehending.
While those issues are important, One Mississippi subtly presents them as part of the overall confusion of each person’s life: these are people facing questions such as how to accept others for who they are and not who you want them to be, how to support a friend facing misogyny in the workplace, and how to acknowledge with the past while still building new bridges, not to mention how to explain to someone that dinosaurs really did exist. The brilliance of One Mississippi isn’t that it blends the personal and the political: it understands that they’re the same thing.
And so, as the show steps up its ambitions, it continues to zoom further in on its central characters. Bringing Tig’s family closer together, in a tragically realistic way, is the insidious knowledge of what their grandfather did to her and Remy as kids – an undercurrent of unspoken abuse that, only two seasons into the show, is able to be discussed properly by the siblings and their dad. There’s a strong sense of catharsis, as it rises to the surface once more – the kind of dramatic pay-off that turns this show into so much more than a typical comedian’s self-starring vehicle. How much of Bill’s behaviour is a result of that generational trauma passed down through the family? And how much more endearing is it to then see that become a trait someone else finds attractive?
It’s that ability to move on that gives this second season its surprisingly upbeat tone. Just as there is love in the air for Bill, Tig’s chemistry with Stephanie’s Kate gives us reason to wish that her unrequited live for her sidekick will blossom into a love that each woman deserves. One Mississippi has established itself as a show that masterfully excavates the pain of the past. As the present looks not much better, the show emerges as an unexpected reminder that people can still forge a future. If Season 1 was a funny slice of sadness, Season 2 is warming burst of hope. What a fantastic, unassuming piece of television this is.
One Mississippi Season 1 and 2 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 8th September.