Baskets – Seasons 1&2 (Jonathan Krisel, 2016)
While I’m still not sure the first 10-episode season quite all came together (though Louie Anderson’s character certainly did, more on that below), I remained immensely intrigued by the intensely uncomfortable, awkwardly funny and bleak with a touch of sweet (it makes sense if you see the show, or have some awareness of Louis CK’s writing) journey following the constantly crushed dreams and hopes of the very neurotic Baskets family (and a few outlying characters), with twin boys (both played by Galafianakis) Chip, a failed Parisian professional clown (with a major blockade having been he didn’t speak French) come home and turned butt-of-physically-painful rodeo jokes, caught in a pathetic relationship with a kinda hot French girl who openly married him for his green card, and Dale, an intensely uptight, deeply competitive kinda businessman with his own ‘business school’ huckster who wants mama all to himself.
Speaking of ‘mama’, I’d love to know how the idea that all you had to do was throw a blonde wig and dress on Anderson (the well known TV comedian back in the 80’s, who in the meantime, it has to be said, has grown morbidly obese) and he could be so immediately and effortlessly believable as the befuddled, equal parts insensitive and caring widower Christine Baskets, who barely tolerates her troubled self-esteem challenged boys Chip and Dale, yet can’t stop lavishing praise on her other twins, the good looking, mysterious black lads who spend most of their time absent, travelling the world as DJ’s, as whoever masterminded it must be given praise of the highest order… as the Emmy’s Anderson has won are deeply deserved.
Baskets presents a world that rarely manages to push through the propagandist lies forwarded by the corporate-controlled idiot box, of average people’s struggle against the realities of everyday American life (done with lots of silly humor, of course), where Costco and its mega-consumer monolithic brethren are ever present (the constant product placement of that business killing monstrosity as an American Big Brother is one of the many cleverly orchestrated bits on the show) where dreams of bigger things and higher aspirations hang by a thread, if they haven’t been entirely crushed out already. Zach’s portrayal of Chip, the mopier of the twins is the better of his two portrayals, with the ready-to-explode Dale (who eventually goes off the deep end into alcoholic frenzied mania in Season 2) played a bit too broadly at times… saying that, the show and Galifianakis still manage to wring a ton of pathos out of both characters.
Chip’s relationship with the constantly shit on and under-appreciated (Costco employee) Martha (played in hilariously understated manner by Martha Keller) is just another constant fountain of painfully realized humor, that grows even more darkly humorous for the follow up ten episodes of Season 2.
By the start of this second season, the show-runners clear understood what they had with Anderson’s Christine (and the actor’s potential emotional range in the part) and consistently made her a bigger part of the narrative (I genuinely just wrote ‘her’!), including finding love with a lonely widower African American carpet salesman from Georgia who decides to good-naturedly accept – or over-look – her blind reverence for Ronald Reagan — and day trip with her to the actual Reagan Museum (a true American freak-show of false idolatry if you’ve ever seen one).
The moment of their first kiss is filled with the type of genuine poignancy and humanity that is often present in the show, but what elevates it to the truly remarkable is not only that it’s being shared between two aging folks (the type of unremarkable people television has little use for), but between a Blue State black and a Red State white, with the added gender bender that the woman is actually being played by a man(!). It’s brilliant. Leave it up to Louis to find an admirable moment of challenge and genuine transgression on the television landscape.
With the rodeo closed down (by the owner Ed, played by an weathered actor I don’t think I’ve seen before, who inhabits the role of a rundown horse training vet so fully I barely can imagine he’s actually an actor, and not that person) by the end of Season 2, the forlorn Chip ends up drifting off to join a renegade group of train-hopping performers on a mission that ends, true to the nature of the show, in an awkwardly funny moment of shocking tragedy.
While the first season may have been more than promising, it was with the second season that the Baskets creators managed to elevate the show further from one that started out as a fascinatingly eccentric and awkward black oddity to the more consistently brilliant, deeply humanistic (by ironically refusing to back away from presenting the characters’ deepest emotional flaws) and transcendent work it’s become.
It’s great television. Season three, I joyously await you.