As we’re often told, we’re living in an unprecedented time for television. Creativity and vision are off the charts, so the viewer is spoiled for choice. The volcano of new shows to meet the insatiable demands of the streaming, binging public has also allowed for something else: a fringe element. And perhaps nothing is a better example of out-there concepts than FX’s Baskets.
When producer Louis C.K. pitched Baskets to FX, the conversation probably went a little something like this: “I have a show that doesn’t cost much and does well. Give us another.” FX, then, chimed in, “OK.” C.K. and another co-producer/the star Zach Galifianakis, clearly have free reign. But the show might bear the firmest imprint of the third production member, Jonathan Krisel. He used to work on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which, for some time, rightfully held onto the claim of the oddest thing on television. In 2016, Baskets is in the running.
Absurdist, trippy, and strange, Baskets did well to exceed the shock of its trailers. Here are just a handful of notes from the first episodes of the dark rodeo clown comedy: Galifianakis plays his own twin brother and Louie Anderson — who is definitely a man — dons makeup as their mother. She owns cats named Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, as well as a feral one monikered — wait for it — Will Ferrell. There’s a Juggalo, a lot of Arby’s and Costco talk, and Kato Kaelin singing the national anthem.
But Baskets cuts the absurd with the melancholic. Galifianakis’ titular Chip Baskets has a sour marriage with Penelope (Sabina Sciubba), a mother who dotes on her other children, and a disdain for his insurance agent, Martha (Martha Kelly). There’s slapstick, too: Baskets’ pants fall down, and he gets hit by a car door or, most often, a bull, too. In short, there’s no telling what Baskets will do next and you get the feeling that the creators of Baskets don’t know yet, either.
Sure, the show is rooted in the semi-real: struggling artists or familial strife, say. But it hinges upon the strange. Without its oddball eccentricities, Baskets is a rehashed version of Pagliacci. Throw a scene in where Chip argues with his wife and ends up accidentally (?) mimicking her French-accented pronunciation of “clown” and you’ve got your own bizarre animal.