Baskets – Seasons 3 (Jonathan Krisel, 2018)
It’s another season of following the dysfunctional, eternally quarrelling, selfish (and very American) Baskets clan and their small coterie of struggling side characters, all trying to make ends meet and secure even the briefest respites of happiness in a cruel and unexceptional world, with this time matriarch Christine Baskets (Louie Anderson) — in a bid to save the catastrophic messes known collectively as her twin boys, Chip (a failed professional clown with the opportunistic Parisian woman he loved having openly married him for a green card) and Dale (an uptight alcoholic train wreck devastated by his collapsing business, failed marriage and the fact that his own kids prefer mom’s boyfriend to him), both played by Zach Galafianakis – buys a local bankrupt rodeo with the goal of turning it into a family business… and saving them all. All the while, the Costcos and Arbys loom over them, providing illusions of consumer happiness.
After brilliant co-creator Louis CK was ceremoniously dumped from the entire FX channel line-up of shows, as well as from every other mostly brilliant thing he was involved with (and not, as a politically enlightened compadre recently pointed out to me, for his heinous open support for a war-mongering corporatist Presidential candidate who vociferously pushed for illegal wars killing tens of thousands of women and children around the world, vigorously defended the notion of marriage between a man and a woman as a ‘bedrock of society’, helped foster in a prison-for-profit system that not only decimated American communities, but enslaved an entire new generation of Black Americans, and also shielded a top senior advisor of her campaign for ‘Faith based Operations’ – as always, you can’t make this shit up – from credible and repeated accusations of sexual harassment, all while selling herself as a head of the ‘#metoo’ movement; nope, CK was vilified and rejected for pullin’ out his willy wanker and jerkin’ his gerkin’ in front of a few grossed out aspiring female comedians) and knowing next-to-nothing about the brand of humor of the other main co-creator and double-dipping star Galafianakis, I was more than a bit concerned about the possibility of Season 3 getting creatively de-railed.
From the selfish, petty and shame-filled (a very particular deeply personal trait that Mr CK unfortunately and obviously manifested in his activities backstage) characters that remain engaging because of the underlying humanity both the writers and actors so brilliantly bring out, to the awkward humor and embarrassing situations that sometimes gets so off-putting and painful to experience it’s hard to know exactly how to react (except when you recount it afterwards, then it’s almost without fail hilarious), other than its red state America setting (it’s in California, which is officially a blue state, but these small town folks are assuredly red-der than red – and their obliviousness at their economic ownership by the corporate Costcos of the world is one of the many wonderfully trenchant observations on the show – and a brilliant use of having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too product placement), which is a bit distant from his usual urban (faux) liberal milieu, the first two seasons of the show still had all the earmarks of another impressively memorable Louis CK joint.
After settling into Season 3, however, I was able to sigh in relief, as not only did the show not lose a beat, but it grew even more assured, with the storylines helping explore some of the important secondary characters in deeper ways. More is revealed, for instance, about the aged Eddie, a part brilliantly cast to an actor who I struggle to believe is actually an actor and not someone found stuck in some old struggling American western town, who turns out to be an alcoholic and mischievous malcontent with a kind soul. On a bigger scale, there’s the eternally put-upon and un-appreciated Martha, played in perfect schlemiel manner by Martha Keller; she even finally has a moment or two where she stands up against the eternally ungrateful narcissism of Chip (though, thankfully, she never quite loses the awkwardness that defines her character). Though I wonder if we’ll ever learn exactly why she always has that green cast on her arm (or if any of the characters will stop ordering her around for a second and bother to ask her? I kinda hope not).
The true heroes of the show — the ones who escape with a sense of worth despite the odds — are Martha and the Costco snack-obsessed, under-educated and unsophisticated Christine. Somehow underneath the consumer veneer of their lives, despite the odds, they manage to escape with some dignity intact, perhaps because they’re not on a quest for it, unlike the pettier, eternally competitive and warring twin brothers.
While already amazing in the first two seasons (and worthy of all the accolades he – I really want to say she! – has gotten for it), what the shockingly obese Louie Anderson has done in the part of Christine with Season 3 is a marvel. He has completely inhabited the role to where, unless you stop to remind yourself it’s a man playing the part, you’d never remember. He is her. It might have started as a gimmick but not only did it never play out as such on the show, but – with Season 3 rolling around – it’s become Anderson’s career-defining and greatest role.
Galafianakis has also steadily improved in his dual roles from what was already working, to where, with the many scenes in Season 3 in which he argues across from himself, he is presenting two entirely distinct characters. If there is one thing I’ve learned about Galafianakis over these last three years, it’s that he’s brilliant here. In fact, James Franco, a celebrity figure prone to idiosyncratic choices, might do himself a service by paying close attention to Zach’s efforts here in helping define his lesser realized twin brother roles on the 70’s 42nd Street set, dirty nostalgia series, The Deuce.