In ‘Baskets,’ misery loves clownery

By Justin Cook
Correspondent

“We can’t all be florists or dishwashers,” Zach Galifianakis said in the second episode of his, Louie C.K. and Jonathan Krisel’s new FX original comedy,  “Baskets.” “Some of us have to be artists.”

Galifianakis became an overnight sensation in 2009 with his role as Alan in the wildly successful comedy, “The Hangover,” as mainstream America was first exposed to the longtime cult comedian’s very strange and specific brand of humor. The film made it clear that Galifianakis wasn’t your typical comedic actor — his line delivery was completely deadpan, his body language was both unnatural and confident, and to put it bluntly, he could play one hell of a weirdo. Now, Galifianakis is on the small screen with “Baskets,” and it’s quite easy to see that the actor is playing to his strengths.

Baskets yearns to be a professional clown. (Youtube.com)
Baskets yearns to be a professional clown. (Youtube.com)

“Baskets” follows Chip Baskets, a man hopelessly devoted to following his dream of becoming a widely-respected professional clown. After running out of money while studying at a clown college in Paris, Chip is forced to move back home to Bakersfield, Calif. In order to bring in a source of income to support both himself and his French wife, Penelope (who only married him so she could move to America), Chip takes a job at a local rodeo as, you guessed it, a rodeo clown.

The ridiculous premise of the show alone is enough to keep some from tuning in, so it may not come as a surprise that “Baskets” isn’t for everyone. However, the show is different than anything else currently on TV, which is saying a lot considering the crowded TV landscape, and is without a doubt worth watching. “Baskets” may be uneven at times and despite its uniqueness, the main plotlines of some episodes follow a fairly predictable story structure. However, it’s also an effective portrait of a man who literally has next to nothing, yet manages to keep moving forward if it means that there’s even a slight chance of achieving greatness.

Galifianakis wears the role of Chip Baskets as if it were a second skin, navigating through the character’s awkward interactions and general nastiness to others without missing a comedic beat. In fact, if “Baskets” proves one thing, it’s that even a few years after the end of the hugely lucrative “Hangover” franchise, Galifianakis still has a knack for playing eccentric, despicable and oftentimes mean characters that, at the end of the day, the audience can’t help but sympathize with and root for.

A strong assortment of supporting characters joins Galifianakis, from Martha Kelly’s sweet but meekly obedient portrayal of Martha Brooks to the overbearing mother that Louie Anderson plays. And in case you think otherwise, that’s right: Anderson, a male actor best known for his roles in “Coming to America” and “Life with Louie,” plays Chip’s female mother. What’s even more surprising is that Anderson unreservedly gives his all to the role and owns it. Think John Travolta in “Hairspray,” but funnier. Additionally, Galifianakis occasionally pulls double-duty and plays Chip’s more successful and sociable brother Dale, to hilarious results.

On the other side of the coin, the show may not prompt as many belly laughs as one would probably hope for and its unpleasantness can be a bit much at times. One can only take so much of watching characters get beaten down repeatedly with the light at the end of the tunnel slowly disappearing. But then again, that’s part of the fun. A good portion of the show’s comedy doesn’t come from what Chip is saying or doing, but rather his trivial, sad and seemingly meaningless existence. Sounds dark, right? It sure is.

Despite Chip’s determination, there’s really no endgame for him. The lack of a reasonable ultimate goal gives “Baskets” a great sense of aimlessness, a quality that could be used to criticize nearly any other show, but fits into the established universe so well.

Considering how nowadays it’s hard for a new TV show to find its voice among strong competition, let alone find its audience, “Baskets” is a breath of fresh air. It’s a show that, while an acquired taste, revels in its peculiarities and doesn’t seem willing to compromise itself in order to appeal to the masses.