Baskets Series Premiere Review: Make 'Em Laugh... Make 'Em Cry

Baskets S01E01: "Renoir"


No one can tell you what is funny! Seriously. There's only one person who can tell you what is funny and that is you. That is your birthright. But what I can tell you is what I think is funny, and that's FX's new series Baskets. You may not agree with me, heck, you probably won't agree with me, but that's going to be the case with Baskets, a series that employs the exact opposite strategy of network comedies. It doesn't want to appeal to everyone, it just wants to appeal to a small, dedicated portion of the population.

In fact, the series really only tried to appeal to three guys: star Zach Galifianakis, producer Louis C.K., and showrunner/director Jonathan KriselBaskets was clearly made by and for them, and if you like it too, then great. In fact, Galifianakis told Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall that he wasn't even sure if Baskets would work, and he didn't even seem to care. "But I'm proud of the show, that's for sure," he said. 

And he should be. Baskets is a prime example of auteurism on television in that it feels like it was made with little regard for the public. That's become the FX way. It's an unsanitized, raw product and forgive me for taking the artists' side but can I get a "Hallelujah!" because that's exactly how it should be, especially with minds like Galifianakis, C.K., and Krisel (known best for his work on Portlandia and Tim & Eric) behind the thing. 


Geez, so many disclaimers and excuses before I even tell you what the show is about. Baskets follows Chip Baskets (Galifianakis) as he pursues his lifelong dream of becoming a clown, but gets waylaid in his hometown of Bakersfield after flunking out of a Parisian clown college. It's not exactly the type of show description that a PR person dreams about promoting, and because its humor is somewhat narrow, a tough sell for just about everyone who isn't a member of the Zach G. fan club. 

Galifianakis' sense of humor is all over Baskets, its oddness coming in bursts and spurts with an unsettling rhythm that should be familiar to anyone who has followed his stand-up. The seriousness with which he takes clowning was played for laughs, like when he wondered if his clowning professor really hurt himself slipping on a prop banana peel. Then it's a stab at low-hanging fruit when Chip's pants fell down while he's mimicking a clown prance. It establishes as the classic Zach Galifianakis archetype: the buffoon whose effort outweighs his output, and no one is better at that than Galifianakis. There's also the occasional volcanic eruption from Chip which Galifianakis does so well, like when his orders at a drive-thru for esoteric sodas are repeatedly met with "we don't have that" and Chip shouts "Schweppes!" so loud it echoes through the fast-food joint, or when he heaves his water at his friend's car because she honked to get his attention. It's classic Zach, a combination of silliness and subversiveness and performance art reminiscent of the late great Andy Kaufman.

But there's surprising depth to Baskets that made its way out of the pilot like water from one of those clowning squirty flowers. Chip's relentless obsession with becoming a clown sounded like a punchline at first, but it ended up being the dramatic backbone of the show that would otherwise be jelly-like. There are many obstacles in Chip's way to clowndom, like how the F do you become a clown and who the F pays a clown and why the F would anyone want to be a clown, but his doggedness is so admirable and authentic that the pursuit becomes noble and respectable (yet certainly quixotic). Dream fulfillment is as old as time, and who are we to interrupt that if said dream is to be a clown? There's also the irony that Chip wants to be a clown—albeit in the more classical sense where it was an "art"—yet he's mostly a dick to everyone he meets. But that's part of the joke; he thinks he's better than everyone else because he considers himself an artist. But we see the truth: he's a failed clown. 

Well, sorta. Chip did end up getting a job as a rodeo clown in Bakersfield, the emotional equivalent of a Juilliard-trained actor making fart jokes at kids' birthday parties. But Chip took the job, dammit, for $4 an hour. And he did his job without complaint, something the pilot went through great lengths to get across, like long shots of Chip applying his makeup or gathering himself after a long night of getting holes poked in him by bulls. Anything that got Chip closer to his dream, and that's the endearing side to an otherwise comically abrasive character. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the 12th man off the bench who shows a lot of hustle even if he can't dribble two steps without bouncing it off his foot.  


As great as Galifianakis is, and he's been one of my favorite comedians for almost 10 years now, Chip's actually the third-best character on the show. His early companion was Martha (played by Galifianakis' real-life friend and stand-up comic Martha Kelly), a Costco insurance employee who drove Chip around after he wrecked his scooter... and then again after she wrecked his new scooter. The drab Martha spoke with zero emotion, as if she's been laid flat by life and let it bulldoze her and she just got up the next day and did it all over again. She's a blank canvas that Chip walked all over and disregarded whenever he could. But again, we got someone who was so dedicated to their job that everything just slid right off her. We don't know a whole lot about her except that she's a terrible driver and she lost her virginity in the motel Chip is staying at, but we don't need to know a whole lot about her yet. The best of everyone was Louie Anderson in drag as Chip's mom, who looks like Louie Anderson threw on the first wig he could find and a muumuu and started talking like a mom. There isn't much more to the role to be played, but every once in a while someone finds the perfect role to play and no one can explain why. This is one of those times. Give us more Louie as Chip's mom. 

Now that we have so much television to watch and so many places to watch it, the diversity of television should explode. Niches need to be filled as shows target smaller groups instead of the world at large, and Baskets certainly should appeal to a smaller audience that loves absurd comedy with heaping spoonfuls of indie sensibility. You'll hear a lot of people say Baskets is funny, you'll probably hear even more who say it isn't, but you'll have to figure this one out on your own. Me, I love it. 

 


CLOWNING AROUND


– In terms of emotional effect, when Chip finally said, "I'm Baskets, Baskets the clown," I felt it in my bones. You go, Chip!

– I've watched the whole ordeal at the drive-thru several times since it was in one of the early trailers, but man was it great to see the whole scene. Especially when Martha smashed into the car when the worker told her to pull up.

– Galifianakis' pants falling down is funny. It's genius. 


Comments (16)
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Jan 25, 2016
Lot of potential and I loved the setup, but it generally missed for me. I can see why fans of Louie would like this show. I got a few chuckles from some of the supporting characters (the rodeo boss and twin Dale Baskets) but it wasn't quite absurd enough to really draw me in.
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Jan 24, 2016
The show is pretty sad. Some awkward funny moments. I loved it.
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Jan 22, 2016
What an awkwardly charming piece of odd art!!!

It doesn't fall under the category of typical comedy nor under humour noir. It definitely has vibe! It has depth and context!

I loved the detailed character portrayal and the overall aesthetics of the episode.

I liked it! I'm definitely coming back for more!
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Jan 22, 2016
Blueeyes_af -the French expression you're looking for may be that "Baskets" a un petit "je-ne-sais-quoi?". I think "Baskets" is great. I cant wait for more episodes!
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Jan 22, 2016
I gave it a try. Considering that I thought that You're The Worst wasn't going to be nearly as good as it is, I kind of had to. So to be honest, I would rather someone sit in my chest and drip lemon juice into my eyes. I get what they are trying to do. I just think they really fail to do it.
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Jan 22, 2016
It was just alright for me, there were times when I could see what they were doing, like a movie trying to manipulate you into feeling a particular emotion, I got what I was supposed to feel but didn't feel it. There were chuckles for sure, but no laugh out loud moments. I'll keep with it for a time, there was a certain something about it that I can't put my finger on that I liked (if only there was some french expression for that, that would be topical, oh well) so we'll see if this just had a case of the pilots or what. There are some shows you need time with before you can get into them, this might be that kind of show.
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Jan 22, 2016
I like comedy with some depth, but it also needs to actually be funny. Louis CK, Master of None, Bojack Horseman, and You're the Worst are all great comedies and also have depth and drama. These shows have some of the most moving moments on TV, but they also bring a stress relieving belly laugh from time to time. This show is just relentless and never pays off with anything close to a real laugh. The closest it comes is with Louie Anderson playing his mother. I can't imagine that this will be picked up for additional episodes.
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Jan 22, 2016
My introduction to Galifinakis was watching The Comedians Of Comedy and I have been a fan of his off-kilter humor ever since. I LOVED this premiere and I can't wait to see more!
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Jan 22, 2016
It's what I thought it'll be. It's what I hope it'll be. I liked it.
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