Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
In a modern world ablaze with buffoonery, where is a clown left to stand? Such a query is pondered aloud — partly — by the failing, fumbling wannabe artiste Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis) in Baskets‘ extraordinarily disconsolate, yet darkly dreamy second season. Permeated with pathos, pain, pointed pity, poignancy and pinched pleasure, FX’s continuously exceptional sophomore dramedy is, at once, a vivaciously vicious series and a sincerely sensitive one. As compassionate as it is cruel, and as meaningful miserable as it is strange and specifically hilarious, Baskets is nothing short of beautiful. Even in a clownish world, there’s always room for a maestro.
Chips was a broken, directionless man in season 1, and that remains the same at the beginning of this new year. With the rodeo gone, Penelope (Sabina Sciubba), his unloving French wife, forced back home and his newfound Arby’s job leaving him unfulfilled, Chips decides to hop the nearest freight train and see where his unforgiving world takes him. Not far, it would seem. With his cash limited, his cigarettes depleted, his hair shortened and his ambitions unfounded, Chips, once again, is left cold, beaten, dirty and hungry, with only an unopened can of Chef Boyardee canned noodles to tide him. In his fruitless travels, however, Chips eventually finds salvation in a gang of inviting freaks, a ragtag team of outsiders and misfit performers who work for chum change on the streets.
Adopting the nickname Noodles, on account of his wandering can of scavenged food, Chip earns the trust of the group (minus one key member) due to his lively crowd work, quick enthusiasm and knack for slapstick humor, both intentional and otherwise. But what seems like Chip’s Eden soon turns into a living Hell — and that’s before tragedy befalls the wayward entertainers.
Back in Bakersfield, Martha (Martha Kelly) worries sick in monotone about Chip’s absence, but few else pay it much mind. His mother (Louie Anderson) fusses over her ballooned weight more than her son’s disappearance, knowing full well that her most concerning child will come home soon, while Chip’s aggravating, recently-unbridled twin brother, Dale (Galifianakis), is more interested in developing a relationship with Martha after an uneventful fling than his brother’s current state.
Both disarmingly sweet and hauntingly poetic, Baskets continues to quietly impress and astound with its assured, distinguished new season. More confident, remorseful and melancholy than before, this sad clown series is never short on warmth and heartbreak, loveliness and loneliness, fragile insight and tender humanity. Much like his work on Portlandia, director/co-creator Jonathan Krisel captures suburban quirkiness in a manner that’s loving and gently teasing. Whether it’s their habitual visits to Costco, silly mannerisms or their funny speaking patterns, these fractured characters are often the source of easy ridicule, yet there’s a bubbling underlying affection given to all of them that makes them quick to care for and easy to adore between the snide laughs. These people are lowly and misshapen, but they’re also patient, mindful, fervent and heartfelt, too. They’re deeply human. Therefore, they’re understandable and approachable in their unusual ways.
As a showcase for his attentively-understated comedic and dramatic versatility, co-creator Galifianakis provides some of his deepest, most developed pair of characters to date. Both Chip and Dale are dealt with great struggle and sadness throughout this new season, and while it’s often easy for Dale to become a flamboyant cartoon character without careful consideration, Galifianakis always reels in something buried or, at the very least, magnanimous to each of his endlessly longing twins. Admittedly, there’s always been a buried sorrow to Galifianakis’ characters, even in his stand-up, and Baskets perpetually gives him the chance to express that mix of moodiness and foolishness he brings so easily — and almost effortlessly — to the forefront with aplomb.
But no matter how good Galifianakis is in his respective roles, Baskets remains Anderson’s show to steal, and he takes it from underneath the star at every conceivable moment. His (rightfully) Emmy-winning showcase was deceptively more inspired and deeply-felt than it initially looked. Taking great influence from his late mother, Anderson’s movingly rich, wondrously lived-in performance is one of a kind. Deeply authentic, yet entirely uproarious in its gentle-natured aloofness, it’s an acting turn unlike any other on television, and the medium is stronger, sweetened and more gorgeous because of it. It’s an absolute revelation, built with grace and woe — just as it was before. It might be the role that defines Anderson’s legacy. It’s truly memorizing character work.
More solemn in its approach, yet nevertheless still profoundly involving and passionately artistic, Baskets isn’t necessarily a subtle show, but it’s also not one defined by easy answers. Guided with indie sensibilities and a benevolent vision, FX’s winningly earnest and delightfully guilt-ridden program continues to be yet another marvelous accomplishment for the constantly impressive station. Life is a tragedy masquerading as a comedy right now. Those who consider themselves artists find themselves overwhelmed with both overflowing inspiration and soulful bankruptcy in the process. Baskets doesn’t merely reflect that mindset but embodies it, sympathizes with it, portrays it with all its precise, pin-pointed honesty, surreal empathy and creative disarray.
“I’m just tired of making my life harder than it needs to be,” Chip admits with internal scorn in the impacting second episode. Oh, the life of a misbegotten artist in an uncivilized world. Baskets, once again, proves itself to be one of the most distinctly vivid, attentively introspective and singularly sympathetic TV shows on television at the moment, and in the process, it quickly becomes one of its finest. That’s no joke. Baskets is exactly the meaningfully distressed original program we need in this looney reality of ours. We need this crying clown to continue bringing the laughs and pain.
FX's beautifully melancholy Baskets only gets more solemn, sad, strange, sympathetic and singular with its richly poignant second season. In our clownish world, Zach Galifianakis continues to provide the laughter and pain in equal measures.