The comedian Tig Notaro’s stand-up set Live, recorded in 2012, was a candid retelling of a hellish year in her life—a life-threatening battle with pneumonia, followed by the death of her mother from a freak accident, followed by the end of her long-term relationship, followed by being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a spontaneous piece of bravura storytelling, made all the more gripping by the fact that Notaro could actually mine great jokes from the awfulness of her recent experiences. Now, her new Amazon show One Mississippi is aiming to do the same, dramatizing her return home to bid farewell to her mother while dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Just like Live, it’s a comedy—but a sometimes extraordinarily depressing one.
One Mississippi is the latest entry in an ever-expanding world of half-hour TV comedies that deal with difficult, downbeat story topics. You’re the Worst detailed its protagonist’s battle with clinical depression, Bojack Horseman is an animated show about a selfish narcissist that is anything but whimsical, and Amazon’s Transparent is a bracing, challenging work that is nonetheless unsparing about its ensemble’s many dysfunctions. Though her comedy can be heartbreakingly personal and raw, Notaro has always been a gentle storyteller, a dry-witted but affable presence who succeeds onstage by humorously defusing even the saddest stories. One Mississippi is true to her personality as a performer: It explores painful topics, but with intense empathy for both its characters and its viewers, as if holding their hands through its toughest moments.