No one in Baskets gets to have what he wants. Take Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis), who just wants to be a clown. Back home in Bakersfield, California, after flunking out of clown school in France, Chip gets a gig with a rodeo, but it does little to fulfill his artistic ambitions. Nevertheless, he prepares to be knocked around by the bulls as if he’s about to take the stage at Carnegie Hall. This kind of conflation and misapprehension of fantasy and reality is at the heart of this very dark comedy.
Baskets, cocreated and produced by Louis C.K. and Galifianakis, is set in the trenches of consumer capitalism. Piles of cheap junk abound, and Chip’s mother (in a revelatory performance by Louie Anderson) buys it all. Every product presents a chance for her to be enchanted. “Nothing would make me happier than to be able to make my own curly fries,” she says while pontificating on the merits of Arby’s.
Unlike portrayals of the “uncultured” in a Coen brothers film, the characters in Baskets are not presented mockingly. Chip emotionally abuses Martha (Martha Kelly), a Costco insurance adjuster sent to help him after he crashes his imported French scooter while trying to swat a bee. She seems to be Chip’s only friend, and keeps coming back to him because he’s so helpless and obviously needs her. Even though people on the show repeatedly fall on their faces, they do so with a measure of dignity.
Somehow, Baskets is still a comedy. The secret might be the low-key, deadpan delivery of all the dialogue. The decision to have the actors underplay even the most devastating moments has the effect of enhancing their gravity and resonance. The overall flat affect also makes the occasional explosions all the more jarring, such as when Martha calls out to Chip and he turns around and flings his Big Gulp all over her windshield.
Looking out over a vista of industrial parks and strip malls, Chip’s mother asks Penelope, the Frenchwoman who married Chip for a green card but now refuses even to be in the same room with him, how she likes the view. Before she can answer, Mrs. Baskets adds, “Isn’t it beautiful?” without a shred of irony. It isn’t beautiful and everyone knows that, but it’s better to laugh about it, if for no other reason than to keep from crying.
Baskets Thursdays at 9 PM on FX