Zach Galifinakis has long been a favorite of mine. His dry, absurdist comedy lies somewhere between one-liner genius Stephen Wright and Mr. Bean. Between Two Ferns is a brilliant expression of his offbeat humor in snackable web form, so when I learned he had his own show, I was beside myself.
Watching it, I wasn’t disappointed.
Unlike the recent run of semi-autobiographical comedian-as-anti-hero(ine) dramedies such as Girls, Louie, and Master of None, Baskets doesn’t feel like it could the origin story of a Hollywood celebrity. Chip Baskets (1 of 2 of Zach’s characters on the show) is a loser through-and-through, a minimum-wage rodeo clown who failed out of a prestigious French clown school and faces constant rejection from his indifferent for-the-greencard French wife.
Zach brings his unique brand of determined, aggressive absurdity to this little comedy, crafting a character that thrives on pessimism, anger, low-self-awareness, completely inappropriate arrogance and closeted depression. The situations that form the arc of the story explore Zach’s range as Chip swings between glimmers of hope and crushing disappointment with fierce determinism.
By now because of the Emmy’s you know that Louis Anderson plays Chip’s mother, a gender-bended character that somehow feels completely natural and needs the bare minimum of props. A wig and dress are all that turn Louis into Christine, which keeps the character from seeming affected or artificial.
Chip’s inexplicable sidekick is Martha, a mousy insurance adjuster with an infinite tolerance for Chip’s dismissiveness and verbal abuse. Her ability to absorb the worst of his absurd insults and still turn up the next day is remarkable, as is her near-ability to will herself to disappear (in one episode she helpfully offers to simply disappear – perhaps from the planet – to help her boss avoid a difficult conversation with her).
The show wins points for a gender-bending role that’s presented naturally and not in a hammy fashion, and for an unusual set of female characters that are painted with depth and drive.
Baskets stunningly refreshing: TV has sunk to such lows that any break from a predictable storyline is like a hit of creative oxygen. With a minimalist plot and ultra-compelling characters who are deeply funny yet deeply tragic, the series feels like a character study similar to Ryan Gosling’s Lars and the Real Girl.
It’s must-watch television.
Baskets is created by Louis C.K., Zach Galifianakis, Jonathan Krisel, and stars Zach Galifianakis and Martha Kelley, and Louie Anderson. It airs on FX.