It’s unfair to expect a six-episode streaming show to fix the world, and the spry new season of “One Mississippi” doesn’t quite do that. But it takes on quite a bit this time around, and it’s to be commended for not just deepening its characters but also for also resolutely taking on the state of the nation — at least as it exists in one small Southern town.
If the first season of “One Mississippi” was about loss, and the disorienting changes that arrive as a result of wrenching familial crises, the second season is about possibilities of all kinds. Can you love someone who doesn’t tick enough of the boxes you’ve listed on your roster of significant-other requirements? How are you changed by brushes with mortality? And is it feasible to communicate — or merely sit calmly at a dinner table — with someone who blithely declares that the existence of dinosaurs is “fake news”?
All those interpersonal territories are dotted with land mines, but “One Mississippi” steps lightly into every danger zone it enters. Its governing impulse is to view the majority of human beings with amused or at least partly tolerant compassion, even as its characters show flashes of justifiable rage at the coddling of different kinds of predators.
In the second season of “One Mississippi,” Tig (Tig Notaro), her stepfather Bill (John Rothman), and her brother Remy (Noah Harpster) gingerly begin to move past the loss of Tig and Remy’s mother, a cataclysmic event that occurred at the start of the first season. All three experience the fluttery hopes and anxiety-provoking disappointments that arrive on the heels of new romances. As they attempt to connect, “One Mississippi” subtly makes the case that each has lingering intimacy issues thanks to the malignant influence of Tig and Remy’s long-dead step-grandfather.
The first season built toward the revelation that he had molested Tig for years, and this time out, the magnitude of the devastation he caused continues to reverberate through the family. “One Mississippi” treats that issue with the seriousness it deserves, and yet that aspect of Tig’s story never overwhelms the rest of the show, which is truly an accomplishment. Tig, who retains her cool in almost every situation, continues to function as the witty, observant fulcrum around which the show turns.
“One Mississippi” gains power from its avoidance of overwrought grandiosity and its ability to deploy a unique mixture of thoughtful reflection and forthright anger in a series of storylines about sexual harassment and assault. The show is honest about how these events affect people (most of them women) in complex ways over time.
That said, there’s a laid-back feeling percolating through Season Two. Tig has taken a job at a radio station in the fictional coastal community of Bay St. Lucille, and as she builds an audience for her enthralling storytelling and choice music selections, she has to contend with one local telling her she’s shoving her gayness “in her face,” merely by walking down the street.
Tig usually responds to such bias with oblique and cutting wit, or a laconic bewilderment that is all too understandable. “One Mississippi” is too smart to take the position that deeply held beliefs can be changed with a conversation or confrontation or two. But it does explore the idea that curiosity and a willingness to learn are prerequisites for both a functional society and a thriving relationship.
Once again, John Rothman is a joy to watch; if the show merely existed as a Bill delivery system, that would be enough. Whether Bill is instructing Tig and Remy on the proper way to load a dishwasher, reacting to the lazy textual analyses he hears in his book club, or working up the courage to ask a new friend out for dinner, he is always a pure delight. Rothman imbues Bill’s tentative willingness to step outside his comfort zone with deeply winning vulnerability, and yet Bill’s rigidness continues to be an amusing source of family comedy. It’s lovely to watch him contend with the idea that his love of rule-following could be a feature and not a bug for a potential romantic partner.
Given the sheer range of ideas it takes on, one could wish for a few more episodes in the second season. Some new supporting characters, particularly Remy’s girlfriend, might have benefited from more screen time and more textured character development. But that desire for a longer season is partly driven by the fact that it’s just pleasing to spend time in “One Mississippi,” which somehow turns its lead character — a native of Bay St. Lucille — into a fish out of water.
Tig encounters intolerance and generosity, thoughtless cruelty and instinctive kindness, the worst of America and some of its best impulses. “One Mississippi” doesn’t land with heavy-handed force on the ideas and values it favors, but its world is so confidently rendered that it doesn’t have to.