Friday, September 9, 2016

REVIEW: 'One Mississippi' - Tig Returns to Her Hometown to Pull Her Mother Off Life Support in 'Pilot'

Amazon's One Mississippi - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Tig, an LA-based radio host, returns to her hometown of Bay St. Lucille, Mississippi to be at the bedside of her ailing mother, Caroline. Suffering from her own recent health problems, Tig attempts to reconnect with her brother and stepfather, both of whom lack the emotional tools to deal with family trauma.

There are many different ways to start shows. The half-hour realm has been more experimental and successful in the past few years. Comedies have been breaking the mold of what constitutes being a comedy. It's an exciting time to be a viewer because there is just so much out there that can appeal to so many different viewers. One Mississippi certainly embraces the tragedy of its premise much more so than the average comedy. This premiere almost exclusively sets up the premise of the series without delving too much into the individual characters. It's a type of premiere that has been comfortably done many times over the years. But One Mississippi also lays a solid foundation for itself. Sure, it's questionable how just long this story can run and still be the same. But the unique style and presentation of the material by Tig Notaro is enough to see where exactly this story is planning on going.

Notaro takes a very personal experience from her past to revolve a TV show around. Her mother suddenly died when she was undergoing cancer treatments. And now, that is the premise for One Mississippi. Tig has to return to her hometown in Mississippi to deal with her family and process the loss of her mother. It's a story that many people can relate to. The death of a parent is tragic. It's the loss of a key part of a person's life. A parent raises a child. That child is a reflection of everything his or her parents taught them. Children have to bury their parents. It's a sad reality of life. No one is really ready to do it either - whether it's sudden or a long time coming. It's a tough experience for anyone. This show doesn't shy away from these difficult emotions. Nor does it want to put a label on the emotions. After something like this happens, it's easy to talk about sadness and grief and anger. But in Tig's case, it's a mix of emotions that really don't have a name. She just defines it as not being happy in her life right now. That's all she can afford to do. It's a feeling that encompasses the whole tone of the show as well. It's all consuming for the viewer. We experience this loss right alongside Tig as we see just how difficult all of it is on her.

It could be a very melodramatic or manipulative plot beat to include glimpses of the past between Tig and her mother. It's somewhat cliche to say that she sees her mother everywhere she goes in this town. And yet, it's true. All cliches have their roots in fundamental truths. They are cliches for a reason. They work when they are utilized in storytelling. Here, it's not a simple flashback either. All the audience gets are glimpses of a life Tig has lived with her mother. We see her washing her kids down with a hose after a day of fun in the summer. We see her leading her kids on a hunt for strawberries along the train tracks. These are personal memories for Tig. At one point, she even engages in conversation with the memory of her mother. It's brief. It highlights that Tig is not doing well at all. But it's not played as a big fantasy moment. It's simply how Tig is processing and dealing with emotions in this situation. Family is important to her. She is going through a lot and needs to rely on them to get through all of it. She's reflecting on just how important her mother was in her entire life. And now, there's just a gaping hole in it that she doesn't know what to do with.

Even before all of this happens, it's clear that family is important to Tig. The first thing the audience sees of her is her telling a story on her radio show about the stuffed animals her grandmother would give her. It's a sweet moment of a grandmother spoiling her grandchild and the grandchild's imagination running wild. It's a fun and simple way to start the series while also highlighting the tone and comedy the show is striving for. It shows that Tig's mind has always been creative but a bit unconventional. In this play time with the stuffed creatures, she's making them wait outside in the hall to be seated in the fanciest restaurant in her bedroom where she serves noting. It's a fantasy that kids create. But this one in particularly shows the offbeat nature that has always been a part of Tig's life. It also highlights how disconnected she is with her stepfather. She only gave up playing with her stuffed animals because her stepfather, Bill, said they were a fire hazard. It was dangerous to the entire house. She is able to joke about that experience now. And yet, it's not long until she has to deal with Bill on something new altogether.

Bill doesn't react to this situation in the same way as everyone else does. He's a dry and matter-of-fact kind of man. He sticks to a schedule and never strays from it. There needs to be order with absolutely everything that he does. He does not get or appreciate sarcasm. He takes everything in a literal sense. It's a performance that can be alienating and cold. Tig and her brother, Remy, know that he's not the easiest person to be around. But it's not something done out of malice either. This is simply how he processes the world. It's different from how Tig and Remy do it. But that doesn't make it a bad thing. It's not bad when he says Tig's eulogy isn't the last thing she will say to her mother. The last thing was more than likely something trivial like "okay" or "bye." That is true in a certain extent. Tig needs to find more meaning out of her mother's death than that though. She needs there to be more purpose than watching her slowly die as she's taken off life support. It's an excruciating experience because she's there all alone. She's the responsible one in the family who has a strong connection to her mother. She's there when her mother dies. She's there to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. She doesn't know what comes next or how to move forward. She doesn't know what the right move to make is. She's figuring it out just like everyone else.

Of course, Tig ultimately decides to stay in Mississippi for a little while. She doesn't know why she wants to stay. She just has a feeling that she should. Of course, the overly critical side of me thinks she stays because there's no show if she doesn't. But the moment plays differently than that. This has been a unique and challenging experience for her. She isn't done dealing with these emotions quite yet. So, a place to be and deal with that is comforting to her. She stays under the guise of needing to catalog all of her mother's belongings and decide who gets what. Bill is adamant that the kids get everything and that he no longer has any legal connection to them. It's not that simple. He's fine with Tig staying. He relies on her as family just as much as she does with him and Remy. Her staying could cause tension in her relationship with Brooke though. Brooke comes to Mississippi to be with her girlfriend during this difficult time. She doesn't know what to say or do to make the situation any better either. In fact, she awkwardly brings up a number of things that are alienating to this family. And yet, it's clear Tig and Brooke have a connection that is genuine. A death is hard on any relationship. They will be tested unlike anything they have previously experienced. Tig choosing to stay could ruin their relationship. Or it could make it stronger. There's only one way to find out.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Diablo Cody & Tig Notaro and directed by Nicole Holofcener.
  • Most of the story plays completely straight. And yet, there is one fantastical moment that happens. After her mother dies, Tig wonders what happens next and the nurse breaks into laughter. And then, Tig has to wheel her mother out of the hospital while the entire floor is saying goodbye to her. It is definitely a strange moment. But also one that highlights the comedy amidst the overall sadness and grieve.
  • Tig having to constantly go to the bathroom is a pretty amusing subplot. It definitely adds some spark to the montage of her being at many airports traveling to Mississippi. But it also disrupts her time at her mother's bedside while she's dying.
  • Tig's cancer meant she had to get a mastectomy. It must have happened fairly recently too because her family is still concerned about her health and she has yet to actually look at her body following the operation. Brooke offers to provide insight but Tig doesn't take her up on the offer.
  • It was also Tig's birthday a week before her mother died. So this really has been a busy time for her. She missed a phone call from her mother and has yet to listen to the message because of the accident that killed her. It's a bit strange. Did her mother fall the day after Tig's birthday? Otherwise, who waits that long to listen to their messages?
  • And yet, it's a very powerful moment when Tig finally does listen to the message her mother left for her. The audience doesn't get to hear it. It's still a strange and mysterious message to us. But to Tig, it's all the comfort she needs right now. Well that and a young kid running up to her and telling her to go to hell.
  • I'm only slightly worried that Casey Wilson's status as a special guest star means Tig's relationship with Brooke won't last. I hope to be wrong though because I always enjoy more Casey Wilson.

As noted in previous reviews from shows that release their seasons all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.