Baskets

Review by C.J. Bunce

Hardly a beat is skipped before find you yourself wondering if television viewers who may be unfamiliar with Louie Anderson’s brilliant stand-up comedy realize that Zach Galifianakis’s mother on the new FX Networks series Baskets actually is being played by a man.  It’s the brilliance and sincerity of Anderson’s ability to play a mother character that tells you Baskets is one darkly hilarious new series.

Galifianakis–who co-created the show and is a series writer along with comedian Louis C.K. and executive producer Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia, Saturday Night Live)–plays a very serious, committed, “classically-trained” clown named Chip Baskets, stuck now in Bakersfield as an under-appreciated rodeo clown.  Galifianakis also plays the dual role of Chip’s more successful brother Dale.  In the inaugural episode we follow Chip’s traumatic efforts to attend “clown college” in Paris, where the key difficulty is the simple fact that Chip doesn’t speak French, so he can only limp along trying to understand the professor’s French humor lessons.  Ultimately Galifianakis plays the part for all it’s worth.  He’s truly destined to be Emmett Kelly’s perpetually sad Weary Willie.  Opposite Anderson as his doting mother, and Martha Kelly, who plays an infatuated Costco insurance agent who might have stepped out of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, Galifianakis is at times both funny and oddly depressing.  Baskets the Clown is real in as much as Elliot’s character is real on Mr. Robot–modern young guys stuck in a rut in every part of their lives.  Yet somehow the laughs sneak through.

Baskets Costco Anderson

Sometimes they don’t just sneak through, however.  Anderson explodes with humor in every scene and is a true scene stealer, whether he’s cozying up to Chip’s not-girlfriend Martha, amazed at all of the varieties of Costco’s soda water, or pondering the wonder of Arby’s curly fries.  Baskets’ somewhat mail order/now estranged French wife played by Sabina Sciubba, drops Baskets the Clown (he really wants to be called Renoir the Clown) into one too many unreal, and maybe surreal, melodramas that require you to laugh along at his both hopeful and hopeless predicaments.

If you think the Arby’s and Costco references are the typical advertising endorsements stuck into TV shows these days, think again.  The writers wanted to weave these actual companies into their story and received blanket permission from each, with no money exchanging hands.

clown baskets

Here’s some good previews of the series:

Along with TBS’s Angie Tribeca, reviewed previously here at borg.com, Baskets is a great, unique addition to this season’s cable comedy line-up.  Baskets airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. Central on FX.

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