There’s always been an undercurrent of sadness in the dim manchild characters that Zach Galifianakis typically plays (Alan in the Hangover trilogy, Ethan in Due Date, etc.). But with his new FX series, Baskets, the comic actor pulls that aspect to the fore. Though Galifianakis’ talent for broad physical comedy and mining humor from uncomfortable social exchanges is well represented, the show (which was co-created by Galifianakis and comedy auteur Louis C.K.) has grander narrative designs. Galifianakis’ Chip Baskets is a literal sad clown with admirable and probably misguided artistic and romantic aspirations who’s simply trying to find out where he belongs in this world.
Chip’s existential angst is relatable, but his journey is not. In the pilot episode (one of five made available to critics), we find Chip struggling as he attempts to navigate clown school in Paris, France. Ultimately unsuccessful, Chip decides to pack it in and return home to Bakersfield, California, with Penelope (Brazilian Girls lead singer Sabina Sciubba), the woman he believes to be his Parisian girlfriend. Unfortunately for Chip, Penelope only accepts his hasty marriage proposal in an effort to secure a green card, telling Chip that she’s not interested in an actual physical relationship.
At home in Bakersfield, six months later, we find Chip living in a separate extended-stay motel than the one where his wife lives, though she occasionally shakes him down to pay for her cable. Chip is still chasing his clown dream, but the tradeoff involves bulls chasing him at a rodeo for $4 an hour. What’s worse, no one respects him or his art enough to call him by his chosen clown name, Renoir, and nobody really treats him as anything but a burden, save for Martha (comedian Martha Kelly), a Costco employee who meets Chip by chance, and soon adds him to her stable of strays.