Baskets – Seasons 4 (Jonathan Krisel, 2019)
“I’m depressed. Let’s go shopping.”
“Oh, good idea! Grief shopping always makes me feel better!”
Each season following the deeply neurotic Baskets clan and their coterie of wingnut acquaintances struggling to survive and overcome their banal, oft-lonely lives in good ol’ suburban ‘Merica has become a bit like settling in with a favorite meal, or taking a warm bath… it’s an experience to look forward to, guaranteed to provide simple pleasures, both comedic and emotional, borne from familiarity and a confidence that it’ll keep delivering. And it did, with season four, yet again. If there is one terrible lament, it came with the last few episodes, in which the show started to suspiciously feel like it was wrapping up, coming to an end… and I’ve learned since that, in fact, it has. This was the (sigh) final season.
There’s been snack-obsessed (always buying and eating in Costo-size bulk), uneducated and unsophisticated mama Baskets constantly reacting in disbelief at the antics of her emotional catastrophe of a set of twin boys, esteem-lacking wanna-be clown (or ‘cloon’ as the opportunistic Parisian woman who married him for a green card calls him) Chip and insanely tightly-wound (and ready to explode) Dale, with his business having collapsed, marriage failed and two daughters rejecting him for her mother’s boyfriends, having moved into a gun-toting trailer park refusing to admit how despondent he is. There’s the emotionally awkward Martha, always under-appreciated (though the one we keep learning more and more about as the seasons go on, with her considerable straight-faced comedic talents increasingly on display). And the kind and almost supernaturally patient Ken, the aging (and middle age spreading) African American carpet king of Denver who has inexplicably fallen (somehow) happily in love with Christine (to the great consternation of right winger Dale), an obese white woman with a cat named Ronald Reagan.
The situations may change, with this season having the always vulnerable Chip getting swept up with self-involved (hey, as much as the FX Network would like you to forget it, the show is a Louis CK co-creation, so you gotta figure narcissism – and humiliation, naturally — as constant character traits) self-help guru Tammy (nice to see Andrea Marcovicci in the part, an actress I had an adolescent crush on back in the 70’s), introduced to him by Martha (leading to some of the most enjoyably hilarious character moments of the season as Martha gets increasingly openly resentful of Tammy’s connection with Chip), to Christine trying to throw a wedding party for herself and Ken, which he ends up unable to make because of a carpet emergency back in Denver (in this case leading to some laugh out loud pratfall style humor with the overly intense Dale driving the go-cart he claims to have procured from ‘Gary Busey’ as a wedding gift straight into her backyard pool), or the disastrous Basket clan trip to Sacramento to fight the construction of the bullet train that’s putting their rodeo in jeopardy, but it’s the consistency of the characters (and the actors continuing to play them) and their deeply amusing interplay that not only waivers, but grows… in complexity and poignancy.
Okay, Galafianakis – a comic actor I’ve had zero interest in other than this show – might overplay the Dale part at times, but it ultimately works in distinctly separating him from the twin Chip he plays; but that’s a small complaint. Overall, his role on the show, as twin actor(s) and co-creator, is a masterful achievement. It still remains Louie Anderson’s show, however… I say again, whoever thought of casting him as mama Baskets was operating at genius level (a choice that it still surprises me, when you add in that an eager young comedian accused Anderson of — heaven forbid! — making him ‘feel uncomfortable’ when the homosexual Anderson openly made some moves on the kid, as well as that serial wanker Louis CK was involved, that Anderson and the show never got any outraged kickback over Anderson playing a woman – ah, maybe it’s the fact that he’s obese that makes his sins forgivable). Add in the impeccable flavors of Keller, Alex Morris as Carpet King Ken, John Carpenter fave Peter Jason as Christine’s black-slapping, devious, Blimpie franchise-managing brother Jim and you have a great mix.
And all the while, not only do the Costcos, the Arbys, the Enterprise rent-a-cars loom over and around them, providing illusions of consumer happiness, but, for the Baskets clan – with a genuine underlying sense of pain – so does the suicide death of their patriarch when the boys were children. It’s the event that hangs over them as they struggle to define who they are, to overcome and emotionally connect in their own amusingly crazed, self-protective ways.
Baskets has been a sublime mixture of pratfall laughs, neurotically-derived humor and deeply poignant humanity. As with so much of the best of comedy, it has its cake and eats it too, both ridiculing these small-minded, exceptionally unexceptional people (all, as I said, beautifully-cast, the main trait of a great show), while managing to imbue them with something emotional underneath (while fortunately never falling into over-sentimentality or maudlin territory). It’s not a show that reached for greatness, or something grand or epic, but, in its small, oft-silly ways, found it anyway.
It resides up there in the rarified air of my favorite shows (and, hell, I’ve seen all of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer!). I will miss the absurd situations and the ridiculous, sad characters who manage, despite all the odds and their greatest self-destructive efforts, to retain a modicum of integrity, dearly.
Kinda hope they don’t end up making a feature film out of it though… those never seem to work.