Baskets just concluded a superb second season, and I have thoughts on the year coming up just as soon as I want to eat at Planet Hollywood with Steven Seagal…
“Ken, I just want my family to be a happy one.” –Christine
It’s the damndest thing, what Baskets has become. Even at the start, it was never a conventional comedy, but it had some of the signposts of one: the identical twins gag, or Chip’s obliviousness to his professional and romantic prospects. And it was very much a Zach Galifianakis vehicle, since he created it with Jonathan Krisel and Louis C.K.
But it was also deeply sad from minute one, and Louie Anderson’s performance as Christine was never treated as a joke, and the show has only doubled down on the melancholy of it all in this season. At times, it’s felt like a series where Christine was the main character — and since the show’s named after the family, that can work — and even when the emphasis is back on Chip, his struggle to find his place in the world goes very much hand-in-hand with hers. And, remarkably, both of them grew up quite a lot over the course of this season: Chip after his hobo odyssey ended in tragedy, Christine through meeting Ken and dealing with the death of her mother. This comedy about a bumbling clown who doesn’t understand why no one likes him has very quickly and gracefully morphed into a drama about a woman getting a chance to truly live for the first time when she’s in her 60s, and a man who’s only starting to figure life out after wallowing on society’s bottom rungs for a long time.
The season did impressive, poignant work with both, whether it was Christine and Ken’s budding relationship (starting out in the most romantic place on earth: the Ronald Reagan Library), or the way that Chip started treating Martha as his actual friend from time to time, rather than just his chauffeur and indentured servant. At times, Chip’s newfound maturity proved contagious, like when he got Dale and Penelope to help him find a new DJ gig (with the Sneaker Pimps) for Cody and Logan. And at others, all the progress got drowned in filthy toilet water, like the episode where Chip and Dale’s juvenile brawl trashed Christine’s house. (That fight was a classic example of the value of comic excess: the brothers had to do an extreme amount of damage to the house, in ever-stupider ways, for it to be as resoundingly funny as it turned out to be.)
The death of Christine’s mother was a sad event for her, but also a freeing one, and it’s been oddly thrilling these last couple of episodes seeing her stand up for herself and figure out a way to chart a new course after all these years. For too long, the Baskets family was defined by Chip and Dale’s father — or, rather, by his absence — and now Mama Baskets will finally be making choices of her own, and the first one involves rewarding Chip for his own attempts at growth, while also finding a business the family is willing to do together, by buying the rodeo. I wouldn’t have minded a version of the series where the family ran an Arby’s franchise — Chip plus fast food has often been the show’s most successful comic formula — but this feels righter, and more bittersweet. Christine is supporting her son’s dream, even as he’s embarrassed to have his mother as his new boss. And can Anderson win a second Emmy just for that perfect Mother Knows Best look Christine shoots Chip as she walks out of the dressing room area?
So lovely. So strange. So happy FX continues to make a place for it on my TV.
What did everybody else think, of both Chip’s failure with the Russian circus, and season two as a whole?