After the success of Louie on FX, prolific comedian Louis C.K. was soon given the freedom to produce some other projects for the network. One of them is this month’s Better Things starring the always great Pamela Adlon and the other is Baskets, which premiered earlier this year.
Baskets stars Zach Galifianakis as Chip Baskets, a loser with a dream of becoming a professional clown. After studying clowning in Paris despite not knowing a word of French, he finally comes back home to Bakersfield, California with a woman who married him just to get a Green Card. He soon finds a job as a rodeo clown and reconnects with his family. His mother is played, in a strange but genius little bit of casting, by Louie Anderson who is not only hilarious but also completely convincing. It’s no surprise that Anderson won the Emmy award for this performance as it’s really one of the show’s best surprises: this is a pathetic, lonely character but one you really do end up getting attached to.
Another highlight is Martha Kelly’s mild-mannered insurance adjuster Martha who becomes friends with Chip and starts driving him around everywhere after his bike is destroyed. Kelly’s deadpan delivery is a constant delight as it creates a very funny contrast with Galifianakis’ more ebullient and emotional antics. To be honest, the whole cast is excellent from Sabina Sciubba’s French femme fatale Penelope to Zach Galifianakis’ dual role as Chip’s uptight twin brother Dale. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts in any comedy series that’s around at the moment and it would certainly be interesting to see these characters develop in further seasons. Luckily, FX has already officially renewed the show for a second one.
Although the clown theme is present throughout and is a central part of some of the episodes, it’s rarely the focus. This first season is more about Chip coming to grips with the sad reality that he’s gone full circle and is now back right where he started. Chip is in constant denial about his career, his family and his “relationship” with Penelope and that’s what the show is really about: people who have failed in their lives but who are too afraid to change and reboot, thereby living in a sort of self-inflicted purgatory. Baskets is an extremely funny show thanks to some sharp writing and some great performances but it’s also a sad, at times moving little story about characters you really shouldn’t care about but do. This could have easily been a shallow slapstick vehicle for Galifianakis but it’s far more heartfelt and clever than you’d expect.
If I had to nitpick, I’d mention that Galifianakis has already done the twin-with-a-Southern-accent thing a few times and maybe going a different way with Chip’s brother might have worked better. Also, the way that Martha’s character arc ends is a bit weak but seeing as there are, in fact, more seasons to come, I’m intrigued to see how they continue that subplot. Other than that, Baskets is a gem and it’s easily one of the best shows of the year so I heartily recommend it. This is a gorgeous-looking, extremely well written, often hilarious but also dark and moving, surprisingly low-key comedy that’s well worth seeking out.
Season 2 is set for early 2017 on FX.