Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi Is the Portrait of “Red State” Progressives We Need Right Now

TV Features One Mississippi
Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi Is the Portrait of “Red State” Progressives We Need Right Now

I knew One Mississippi filmed a scene in my neighborhood because an Uber driver once mentioned that she appeared as an extra, and there it is in the opening shot: Royal Street, in New Orleans’ French Quarter, a block from the courtyard where I write to you now. Just out of picture is the bodega where I buy my morning coffee; just behind the camera’s position is LaLaurie Mansion, of ghost tour and Coven fame. Later, there’s a Dr. John cameo and a sly dig at the Times-Pic, which also serves as a sly dig at Tig Notaro herself, and though I can’t profess to know much more of the Mississippi coast than what I’ve gleaned from a few short visits, the series’ references to “New Hope Ministry” and “the all-you-can-eat at Shrimpers” recall the rural parish where I once taught high school, upriver from the city on the way to Baton Rouge.

This is unremarkable, perhaps—I imagine there are folks in New York and Los Angeles for whom the sight of their street is a mundane occurrence—but in the context of One Mississippi’s brief, remarkable new season, such images of home begin to carry real weight. In its sophomore outing, Amazon’s idiosyncratic series—so close to Notaro’s own experience that her character’s love interest is played by her wife—holds on to the personal and adds the political, emerging as a portrait of “red state” progressives that blurs the map purple, at least from New Orleans to “Bay St. Lucille.”

Season Two toggles between that Gulf Coast burg, to which Tig returns in Season One after the death of her mother, and The City That Care Forgot, where she and her producer/crush, Kate (Stephanie Allyne), find their radio show has a following, and perhaps a future. Tig’s brother, Remy (Noah Harpster), burns one relationship and begins another; her stepfather, Bill (John Rothman), continues to regain his bearings after becoming a widower, aided by a companion, Felicia (the terrifically funny Sheryl Lee Ralph), who’s as fastidious as he is. In One Mississippi, the plot ambles along—it’s a series so specific that even its “sense of humor” is no more than a tone, harder to pin down than sand flies in Biloxi. To call it “deadpan,” after Notaro’s stand-up, seems to me to imply an ironic distance that One Mississippi does not quite possess: As with Tig and Kate’s radio hour, the series is enamored of stories in all their particulars, the slack stretches and strange meetings and uncomfortable glances in which we no longer reflect film and TV’s taut yarns. Its main article of faith is the idea that who we are and what we value is ultimately shaped by our walk through the world, by trauma and grief and success and affection, and that the places we come from (or choose to live) are only one part of this complex equation.

At a moment in which it’s become commonplace in some quarters to wish for secession from “Trump’s America,” or to erase the presence of people of color in rural locales, One Mississippi is a poignant reminder that two-fifths of voters in the reddest of red states cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton—and that these citizens confront conservatives and their dangerous policies in the course of their everyday lives. Remy’s friend, Vicky (Adora Dei), laughs off his misunderstandings of her Vietnamese church, then calls him out for failing to speak up against another white man’s casual racism; Felicia, a black woman, sets Bill straight after he stumbles into an apologia for a plantation mistress, at which point he embarks on a self-taught course in “the new Jim Crow.” In perhaps the most telling of these political subplots, a hospital receptionist tries to stop Tig from seeing her stepfather, who’s had an attack of vertigo, simply because she’s gay: “I just chose to be straight, right now, while I was talking to you,” Tig replies, treading the line between humor and anger, before loudly announcing she’s gay again as soon as she gets past the front desk. One Mississippi treats its bigots broadly—an acknowledgement, perhaps, that too many media outlets handle the hateful with kid gloves—but its depiction of those met with racism or homophobia is loving and kind. When it comes to the strategies we employ in tense situations, whether humor or logic, fight or flight, the series trusts the characters’ intuition. There’s no mistaking where its empathies lie.

In this, Season Two gently suggests that the dominant hermeneutic of American politics, that of “red” states and “blue” states, is most damaging because it squares no space for stories: To apply it is to assume one knows the details of other people’s lives. Perhaps this is why the series’ tacit argument about Southern conservatism is that it isn’t particularly “Southern” at all. Biloxi’s “Great Americans Day,” a dual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee, is meant to honor “both sides,” echoing the words of our New York-born president; “pray the gay away” Christians are no stranger to cities and counties where Clinton won. The season’s central subject, after all, is sexual assault, a problem that knows no party affiliation or ideological complexion—its horrors reach, as it were, from sea to shining sea.

When One Mississippi ties these stories together, it registers as an antidote to the very notion of “flyover country,” to the sneering and chiding of liberals blind to the injustices that exist in their own backyard. (In one scene I especially appreciated, Tig gives the brush-off to a trio of haughty transplants who act superior to New Orleans locals. Fuck that noise.) In digging into the lives of Southern progressives—urban and rural, straight and queer, white, black and Asian—with its flair for the details that others ignore, the series underscores the fact that the resistance of those on the ground across the South, protesting Confederate monuments and transgender bathroom bans, has been much more effective than the #resistance of those dashing off tweets since November. Real progress requires listening to stories that defy our politics’ conventional wisdom, because it is only in learning each other’s particulars that solidarity is born. We may live in “Trump country,” One Mississippi points out, but we won’t cede it without a fight.

Season Two of One Mississippi is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.

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