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Friday, April 15, 2016

Baskets -- Season One

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Baskets
2016
FX Networks
Season One Score: 9/10

I haven't done a full-entry review on a full season of television in a while. The shows I've already reviewed, I feel I'd be a bit redundant in reviewing season to season, and nothing has held the inviting combination of sparking my interest and not being already spoken of to death by everyone else...until now.
The early cast interviews for FX's Baskets, a show about a 40-something aspiring clown who moves back in with his mother, made the show seem as niche as possible. Star, Zach Galifianakis, essentially said that maybe ten people in the world would "get" Baskets.
Here is who will get this show:
1. Anyone who has come to the realization that their childhood dreams will never come true, and that their family situation will never be reflective of what they want it to be.
2.Anyone who can both cry at a funeral, and laugh when the priest either trips and falls on the casket, or accidentally refers to the deceased as the "dearly defarted." In other words, for those who don't think sadness and humor have to be mutually exclusive (and this show is quite sad and quite funny!)
3. Numerous others, because humans are nearly infinitely complex, and who knows why we like anything.
I enjoyed Baskets first season. I won't say I enjoyed it immeasurably because I can measure how much I liked it on a scale of 1 to 10 (9). I think that producers Galifiankis, Louie CK, and Jonathan Krisel have produced something that feels genuinely new and unique, yet incredibly true to life.
The titular clown, Chip Baskets (Galifianakis), is forced to leave his lifelong goal of French clown school, and finds himself working as a rodeo clown in Bakersfield, California for $80 a week. His married-for-a-green-card wife has no interest in him, refuses to even live with him, and cheats on him regularly. Chip is forced, for financial reasons, to live with his mother (his dad "fell off a bridge"), portrayed by Louie Anderson. Yes, the Louie Anderson who is in real life a 63-year old male comedian.
I think this is one of the most inspired casting choices in history.
Anderson, as Christine Baskets, brings so much warmth and gravitas into the role, it is impossible to see anyone in his place. Mama Baskets has just as much deeply-buried personal pain as Chip, and when I picture the character in my mind, I actually feel myself start to tear up a bit. Rounding out the cast is Martha Kelly, as Chip's oblivious, but affable insurance adjuster and new best-friend, and Galiafinakis again as Chip's far more successful twin, Dale. Which segues me to:
The Bad:  If thi show has a weakness, it's that Dale is a bit too abrasive. While Baskets creates sympathy for Dale late in the season, his character could have used a little more rounding out.
And that is my only negative comment for Season One of Baskets.
The Good: I have no idea how this show pulls off the things it does. Chip's anger at the world and near catastrophic inability to comprehend it should be off-putting, but it isn't. Anderson's casting should be distracting, but it's a masterstroke, and if the major award shows ignore his performance this year, their organizational headquarters should be burned to the ground (figuratively, of course!). The Baskets family dynamic, despite the seemingly off-the-wall nature of the show, is completely believable. Martha's deadpan pronouncement of everything should make the viewer want her to stop talking, but her irresistible recital of every single chain-restaurant breakfast special to a disinterested and not-hungry Chip is but one example of how this is never the case. Basket's casting for regulars and bit-parts is always spot-on, as well. This is one of the only shows I have ever seen where every single person in every single scene looks like an actual person. Even Chip's estranged French wife is only beautiful in an ordinary sort of way. I think that highlights this show's surprise strength: relatability, and I'll highlight it to close:
Near the end of the season, Chip remembers a magical night during his time in France. The dreamlike cinematography and the editing creates feelings of bliss that anyone who's ever had a good time can relate to. The night ends with a baguette picnic, but when Chip comes back to the present and attempts to recreate the experience on an empty Bakersfield lot, with an over-sized subway sandwich, the scene is at once ridiculous, and heartbreaking. The visual gag is hilarious, but Chip's disappointment that he'll never be able to recreate that night is emotionally devastating, and again, relatable.
That's the weird alchemy of this show. It is strangely, overwhelmingly beautiful, then it is belly-laugh funny, then sad enough to make anyone with feelings cry.
It's a complete original.
I like adverbs.

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