A lot of Tig Notaro’s talent lies in what a disarming performer she is. She has a knack for making the monologue of stand-up comedy feel like a dialogue, and it’s in her relaxed manner, the casual feel of her writing, her tendency to emphasize through repetition. (“I’m just a person”; “It’s serious, it’s serious, it’s serious.”) That comes across even when Notaro is making fake radio broadcasts on One Mississippi, the rhythms of her anecdotes and asides projecting an air of invitation as if she’s telling the stories specifically to you, even if Tig Bovaro—her TV alter ego—is actually speaking to hundreds of imagined listeners and who knows how many real-life Amazon subscribers. There are all of these people who want to talk with Tig in “I Want To Hold Your Hand”—though she only really wants to talk with Kate (Stephanie Allyne)—and the show does an excellent job of showing why.
It’s the unforced nature of those moments that make the forced ones in the premiere stand so far out. And I’m not talking about the fantasy interludes, which can be hit-or-miss on One Mississippi, but definitely hit in “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” (The single-shot whirlwind that Tig and Kate go on at the top of the episode is just lovely.) It’s more when the heavier material is broached: When Tig and Kate discuss the nuances of getting “almost molested” on the air, or when Remy (Noah Harpster) is called out for letting his friend’s racist comments slide. Having watched additional episodes of season two, I can see where these scenes are headed, and how they’re handled later on, but here, they just feel so, for the lack of a better term, written. They don’t mesh with their naturalistic surroundings, which, as we know from season one, are well-equipped to deal with (and even find the humor in) traumatic experiences. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that those scenes were talking to me, not with me.
But “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is not its most didactic scenes. It’s defined more by the way it welcomes us back to Bay Saint Lucille, catches us up with what what’s been going on since Tig moved back home, and starts laying out threads for future episodes. She’s doing her radio show from home now, for a run-down station with no running water and an AWOL owner. Remy’s still hung up on his Civil War reenactment buddy Vicky (Adora Dei), while stepdad Bill (John Rothman, divine as ever) is either too oblivious or too uninterested to notice his own lady caller. The callbacks to season one are laced into the proceedings nicely, whether they’re a gentle reminder of the late Caroline or Tig jogging our memory about Kate’s crappy hugs. It’s the disarming tone that the show shares with its creator that helps all of this along, as some One Mississippi characters display ignorance about racial insensitivity, and others display ignorance about proper dishwasher procedure. (Or both, when that character is Remy.)
And you can sense a larger picture of the season to come. Tig scoffs at Biloxi re-dubbing Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Great Americans Day” (some shit the city actually tried to pull) due to its proximity to the birthdays of both great American Martin Luther King Jr. and American traitor Robert E. Lee. The radio show is scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of sponsors. By the time Vicky asks Remy who he voted for in the 2016 presidential election, it’s pretty clear that One Mississippi isn’t going to shy away from the fact that it’s a TV show led by a prominent queer comedian set in a state that cast 57 percent of its votes for Donald Trump. If “Can you go home again?” was one of the big questions of season one, then “Why would you want to stay there?” will factor heavily into season two.
The paths of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” offer some answers: Some in the winning deadpan of its creator and star (Mellie: “Well, I think it’s right that they honor both sides.” Tig: “You mean good and evil.”), and some in the lecture-like tone that can’t help but rise to meet an uncomfortable topic. Because sometimes that’s the only way to start a serious conversation. And it’s not as if Tig and Kate’s conversation on the radio is totally devoid of humor; their discussion of great men and not-so-great men is defused with jokes throughout. Not because it’s a laughing manner, but because they survived, gained perspective on their experiences, and found a form of communion in sharing those experiences. Re-watching the scene, I was reminded of the graveyard slumber party from the first-season finale, a moving sequence that also includes some of the darkest jokes I’ve ever heard in a TV comedy. It’s a difficult discussion that begins stiffer than One Mississippi’s usual exchanges, but that conversation continues thanks to the show’s sense of warmth and humor.
“I Want To Hold Your Hand” wants to start a conversation. Given when, where, and who it’s coming from, it’s well worth listening, even if this episode isn’t the best One Mississippi has to offer.
- Welcome to The A.V. Club’s coverage of One Mississippi’s second season. I’ll be covering the next two episodes, before handing things over to my esteemed colleague Danette Chavez. Expect reviews every other day through Monday, September 18.
- One Mississippi, Tunes Mississippi: We know the mid-episode needle drop, because Tig calls it out onscreen: It’s “Your Best American Girl” by Mitski. The song playing over the credits, meanwhile, is “I Want A Pair Of Cowboy Boots,” from heart-sick Swedish pop classicist Jens Lekman. If you’re a One Mississippi fan, I can’t recommend Lekman’s 2007 LP Night Falls Over Kortedala strongly enough—12 tracks of clever storytelling, wry humor, and a distinct perspective on small-town living.