The creatives behind FX’s Baskets seem to be testing the limits of its liited audience. The ruthless battering of Chip’s (Zach Galifianakis) character, episode after episode, is a truly heartbreaking spectacle to behold. Although the drama of the series is balanced by some of the best comedy on TV, the darker half of Basket’s drama-comedy dichotomy has been on full display in the last few episodes.
Even when it seems like Chip has made a major breakthrough, he repeatedly proves that his ability to deny himself progress is stronger than his willingness to confront the truth. Thursday night’s episode “Family Portrait” continues down the depressing path where the last few episodes left off. Although Baskets always salvages its darker moments with comedy that plays off the utterly ordinary, Chip’s character could seriously use a break at this point.
After last week’s episode, which took us back to Paris to provide more context to Chip’s and Penelope’s (Sabina Sciubba) failed marriage, it seemed like Chip had finally and officially gotten it through his thick skull that Penelope never loved him and that she only married him as an escape from her life in Paris. When he threw away the lonesome faux Parisian picnic he had pathetically made up for himself, it appeared to signify his first major step in putting his past behind him.
But we should have known better: Baskets doesn’t favor neat character resolution. Thursday night’s “Family Portrait” begins with Chip calling Penelope from a payphone to once again ask her if she’ll come back to America so they can start over. She, of course, responds with a firm no. Although Penelope is objectively snooty and awful, she confronts Chip so candidly that it becomes nearly impossible to hate the only person who is straightforward with Chip. It’s Chip who begins to frustrate us through his refusal to swallow rejection. Maybe this time he’ll accept it’s over, but Baskets has conditioned us to not expect these characters to overcome.
Chip’s downward spiral continues at full force in “Family Portrait” when he must accept a job at Arby’s so he can help out with his mom (Louie Anderson), who was recently diagnosed with diabetes. His clowning job at the rodeo doesn’t pay enough, either. You can probably imagine that the Arby’s environment doesn’t encourage Chip’s road to self-actualization any more than his sick mother, his shrill and asinine identical twin brother Dale, or his chilly ex-wife.
Most of Chip’s adversity can be traced back to his lack of useful skills, and his new job at Arby’s highlights that in a jarring way. He can’t even make a sandwich in the proper Arby’s fashion or use the nacho cheese machine without getting the yellow goop all over his face. The manager who hired Chip assures him that he’s part of the Arby’s family and he’ll learn quickly. This is perhaps the only time that someone has provided any semblance of encouragement to Chip, but that positivity is promptly squashed by the fact that it came from his dreadlocked manager at Arby’s.
The unrelenting misfortune that plagues Chip’s life is contrasted by the fact that things start to look up for Martha, who gets routinely ignored and stepped on by all members of the Baskets family. Dale—who may or may not be gay���� — gets a bit drunk and comes on to Martha, and they end up having a romp in Chip’s car, soundtracked by Dale’s flamboyant expletives and Martha’s monotone encouragement.
Later in the episode, Chip stops by Martha’s office to ask her if she wants to hang out, which is the first time he has voluntarily solicited Martha’s company. Then he finds out that the person he can usually count on to be more pathetic than him got laid by his identical twin brother. And so continues the downward spiral.
The final blow comes at the very end of the episode when clowning—Chip’s one source of real happiness in the world—is taken away from him. Eddie the rodeo cowboy informs Chip that the rodeo has been issued a cease and desist order, which means he must pack up and go somewhere else. A steady—albeit poorly paying—clowning job was the only perk in Chip’s life and even that gets ripped away from him. Chip then makes his way to the bridge his father jumped off of when he was a young boy to contemplate his pitiful life in what appears to be his ultimate low point. He officially gives up and hops on board a train passing through town in one of those take-me-anywhere moments, but can you blame him? If things don’t start looking up for Chip soon, I don’t know how much more of this clobbering we can take.