Baskets, the new FX series starring Zach Galifianakis, provides in-depth views of the most average people. Generally, the mainstays have nothing in common: Chip is a struggling rodeo clown; Martha, a timid insurance agent; Mrs. Baskets, the protective mother of twins; and Eddie, the lovable, toothless cowboy. The only adhesive that binds the characters together is the bleakness of their present and future lives. It’s during these moments of emptiness that the series finds its funniest comedic bits, and most candid exposures of everyday people. Similar to the lackluster lives of the employees in The Office, Baskets stakes its claim on the supremely dull. In last night’s episode “Cowboys,” Martha and Chip attempt to spruce up their lives with some soul-searching, and accompany Eddie on a cowboy journey.
After Chip skips out on the rodeo, he is obligated to help Eddie clean up the mess spurred by his absence. Holding a pistol in his hand, Eddie tells Chip he must accompany him on an vague journey to make things right — which Chip perceives as a ploy to hunt and kill Dingo, his replacement clown who ruined the rodeo. Eddie doesn’t drive and neither does Chip, so you know what that means: Martha is joining them, as per usual. With Chip, Eddie, and Martha packed in a small sedan, the episode reminds us these people are lost. How did a cowboy, a clown, and an insurance agent end up together? Who are these people?
Well, Eddie knows who he is: a cowboy, through and through. Chip and Martha, on the other hand, are less certain about their identities. Chip knows that he wants to be an esteemed clown, but his post-Paris life in Bakersfield is more hollow and unrewarding with each passing day. And Martha, although nearly incapable of emoting (which, in my opinion, is one of Baskets strongest comedic statements), seems to want more from life than her pitiful insurance gig. Chip and Martha (somewhat) willingly follow Eddie on his journey — but in the hopes of discovering something about themselves.
“Cowboys” is the first episode of Baskets in which Chip momentarily softens his hardened exterior. Once he does, we realize that he’s terrified: he may be just as aimless and sad as the people around him. The first stop on the trip is Thelma, a prostitute whom Eddie visits every time he’s traveling down this same dusty road. Moments later, after Eddie’s clearly audible romp with Thelma in the next room, Chip has an emotional moment with Thelma on the front porch as he opens up about his general lack of confidence and his quiet desire to make his mother proud. The shift in Chip’s personality is jarring (he actually smiles), since until this point, he had evenly maintained his crotchety exterior.
Later in the episode, Martha must also examine herself as she, Eddie, and Chip make conversation around the campfire. In a quintessentially existential moment, Eddie notes that he is definitely a cowboy, and Chip is, indisputably, a clown. “So what are you?” he asks Martha. Dumfounded, she can’t give a better answer than “normal.” It’s the first time we realize that even someone as seemingly complacent as Martha feels the urge: to be something else, something concrete.
Their destination is the eventual birthday party of Eddie’s estranged Native American son. Eddie hands over the pistol to his son as a present, and tells him he’s brought along the best clown in Bakersfield, Chip, to do a bit for him. Just then, a gopher snake strikes Chip, which causes him to dive face first into the birthday cake. The frosting on Chip’s face slightly resembles clown makeup, suggesting that even when Chip errs, he’s meant to do this clown thing. He gets a few laughs, too. The episode doesn’t wrap up neatly — neither Chip nor Martha have figured much out , but Baskets’ knack for mining humor and affecting emotion from the ordinary is stronger than ever.