5 Reasons Why Baskets Is Like No Other Comedy on TV

The cast and showrunner of the new FX series talk about what makes it unique among its peers.

by | January 20, 2016 | Comments


Take in a few minutes of FX’s new series Baskets, which premieres 10pm Thursday, and you may wonder what exactly you’re watching. Is it a drama? A comedy? Or, is it a “dramedy,” that somewhat dreaded term often used to describe shows that are supposed to make us laugh but, either by design or by intention, do not?

A co-creation of Louis C.K., Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia) and its star, Zach Galifianakis, Baskets is unique among this midseason’s new half-hours. Not only it is a vehicle for Galifianakis, who plays down-and-out clown Chip Baskets, but it’s also the latest example of C.K. and Krisel’s idiosyncratic approach to television.

When we meet Chip, he’s attending clown school in Paris but failing miserably, probably because he can’t speak French, he’s clumsy, and he lacks any air of sophistication. (Yes, even in l’université des clowns, the French find a way to discriminate against sloppy Americans.) Broke but determined, Chip announces to his French girlfriend Penelope (Sabina Sciubba) that he’s moving home to Bakersfield and proposes marriage so she’ll join him. She’s up front about the fact that she’s using him; he accepts that and takes her anyway. Soon Chip and Penelope depart the vibrant City of Lights for the drab, strip mall-afflicted landscape of Chip’s California hometown, where Chip reconnects with his mother Christine (Louie Anderson), gets a job as a rodeo clown, and gains a loyal new friend when an insurance adjuster named Martha (Martha Kelly) won’t leave him alone.

In spite of its bizarre premise, Baskets has the ingredients of a conventional comedy. But C.K., Galifianakis and Krisel refuse to be beholden to single-cam or multi-cam TV tropes. “To me, I’m making indulgent art cinema that hopefully is accessible,” Krisel recently told critics at an FX press event in Pasadena. To this statement C.K. replied, “Oh, s—t.”

So what is this project, really? We spoke to Krisel, Anderson, Kelly, and Galifianakis after the press conference to get a better sense of what Baskets aspires to be. Here are five things that make Baskets a one-of-a-kind half-hour worth sticking with.



You read that correctly. Krisel coined the term to capture the show’s off-kilter wryness, which can be off-putting to witness at first.

“The story is built on a drama engine,” Krisel explains. “But yet we have a lot of slapstick in it. Zach is such a great performer, in that he’s great at slapstick, and he’s great at drama. I just thought you’d want to see a showcase of the best of what Zach is.”

What this means is that the biggest, broadest jokes are behind the action and nearly off-camera. Granted, plenty of physical humor spills into frame, but “there’s a lot of restraint to the show,” Krisel explains.

Their goal is to mimic reality as closely as possible. “When you see everybody in television, in comedy, a lot of them are just fast-talking jokers and have these very well-written jokes and quips,” says Galifianakis. “I don’t see that in real life.”



Galifianakis describes Baskets as “a surreal show that tries to play on real emotions. It’s a comedy, but it has some serious undertones to it… When the mask is off and the makeup is off, that kind of stuff is very interesting to me. The real stuff.”

Tethering Chip to Earth, other than being broke and in love with a woman who cares nothing for him, is his relationship with Christine. Krisel designed her to be “a really relatable mom,” and she truly is.

Indeed, Anderson plays her so straight that you might not even realize that you’re watching a man in a wig and an assortment of formless dresses.

Anderson says it wasn’t very hard to create Christine. “I’ve got five sisters and a great mom, with a personality I can emulate,” he explains. “So what I tried to do in the whole thing was be authentic and not bring any of me, the male side of myself, into it.”

Krisel adds, “In a lot of the scenes, Louie would say, ‘I’m just going to try it how my mom would do it.’ And the result would be breathtaking — so nuanced and so beautiful. You’d see his mom. It was so real. Every time he would do that, I would just be blown away. I think the whole role was an homage to his mother.”

Chip also has to deal with his identical twin brother Dale (also played by Galifianakis), an arrogant, successful entrepreneur with no patience for Chip’s artistic aspirations.

Galifianakis explains that Dale serves as a chatty, unlikable contrast to his clown. “Chip doesn’t talk a lot. I wanted the protagonist to be quiet. The other character, Dale, allows that balance to work.”



Both Anderson and Kelly are playing fictional roles without employing an abundance of theatrics. In Kelly’s case, that may come off equally charming and strange, particularly to viewers unfamiliar with her bone-dry comedic style. The Los Angeles-based comic has been friends with Galifianakis for years, but this is her first major scripted role for television.

“Martha — or the voice of Ambien, as I like to call her — is really very funny,” Galifianakis says. “She’s straight and deadpan in her delivery with not a lot of, like, circus moves. I like comedy that comes from a brain and doesn’t have to sell itself too much in the delivery, and that’s what Martha is.”

Kelly’s persona onscreen is only a shade or two different from how she is in real life. And that dynamic fueled equally by loyalty and testiness between the fictional Martha and Chip? That comes from a real place.

“When I first met Zach… I remember that I did have a crush on him, like a lot of guy comics I had crushes on,” she says. “But I didn’t think it was that big of a crush because we became friends quickly, and then it wasn’t that. And then I found, in the journal, I did have kind of a big crush on him.

“It still feels like I love him so much,” she adds. “It’s intense. It’s not romantic, but it is intense. And that part of the character, I think, reflects how I feel about him.”

The feeling is mutual. “I’ve been trying to get Martha to do stuff on TV with me for years,” Galifianakis said, “and finally she said yes. Because I think she was living with her parents.”



A lot of shows treat their settings as unspoken characters. Bakersfield, California, is not quite that, although it does serve an important purpose.

“The whole show is about your fantasy, that dream or goal that you’re trying to get, and then reality,” Krisel explained. “So you’ve got Paris as this place that Chip loves, but it’s Bakersfield. He’s got this French wife that he pines after but who doesn’t really love him, but he’s got Martha.

“It’s always the juxtaposition of the thing inside you that you’re hoping and dreaming for, and then the reality,” Krisel continues. “Paris versus Bakersfield epitomizes that. It’s the quintessential nothing city.”



Should Costco ever need a spokesperson, the company might consider calling in its biggest fan, Christine Baskets. Costco’s house brand Kirkland is prominently featured throughout Christine’s home, and she rarely misses an opportunity to rave about the big box store. That’s as intentional as Krisel’s selection of Bakersfield as Chip’s hometown.

Kirkland, he told critics, is “the most bland brand. You never care about it. They would never do advertising. …And we went to Kirkland and Costco and we said, ‘Can we just put your products in?’”

Surprisingly, Costco and Kirkland didn’t put up much of a fuss. Following their shock at the request, Krisel said, the company’s reply was somewhere along the lines of, “’Yeah, whatever you want to do.’”

Oddly the prominence of the brand perfectly aligns with the show’s tone. “It’s the authenticity,” Krisel explained. “It’s annoying to see fake Coke in a shoot. It just takes you out of it.”

Regardless of all the effort and intent that went into creating the show’s specific atmosphere, Galifianakis accepts that not everyone is going to get Baskets at first.

“The tone of a show like this is kind of new,” he adds, “and it’ll be interesting to see if people find it compelling or if they have any patience for it at all.”

Melanie McFarland is a Seattle-based TV critic and an executive member of the Television Critics Association. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

Baskets premieres on Thursday, January 21 at 10pm on FX; read reviews here.

  • rackinfrackin

    Sounds awful.

    • fire lion


  • Derk73

    I love Louis C.K., but I can’t stand Portlandia – one of those shows that confuses clever navel-gazing with being funny. They are NOT the same thing.

    • Snarky

      I really like Portlandia but I totally get why someone wouldn’t. I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching it but I wouldn’t call it laugh-out-loud funny.

  • Robin E. Simmons

    Best new show on TV.

  • Judge Holden

    Pretty funny show. I’ll definitely keep on watching.

  • Luba Goldberg-Kuznetsova

    it’s great. love it

  • PhillyLib

    I love it. Louie Anderson slays me. His reactions are priceless.

Tag Cloud

Interview ratings romantic comedy Black History Month video on demand Best and Worst Watching Series game show diversity comic books BBC Trophy Talk cancelled Sony Pictures godzilla WGN Rocky 20th Century Fox PBS Polls and Games Legendary ViacomCBS DC streaming service Toys asian-american adventure Adult Swim football political drama Anna Paquin Brie Larson PaleyFest MTV Universal TCA Winter 2020 SDCC international news pirates of the caribbean tv talk black Logo DC Universe reviews TV renewals jurassic park critics Netflix Christmas movies streaming live action Amazon Studios Musicals scene in color jamie lee curtis Red Carpet action-comedy FOX screenings medical drama Hallmark Christmas movies CNN A24 doctor who IFC dc Apple superhero Western Ellie Kemper Discovery Channel Mary Tyler Moore venice NBC Country Holiday FXX Creative Arts Emmys The Witch OWN The Walking Dead 1990s Pop best french Paramount Plus heist movie stop motion ABC Signature Nat Geo Television Academy BAFTA HBO Turner Classic Movies sequel animated New York Comic Con parents psycho king kong stand-up comedy Crunchyroll new york Arrowverse Mindy Kaling TCM A&E popular Mary poppins blaxploitation Vudu Holidays cartoon TV Land Lucasfilm indiana jones trailers Exclusive Video joker saw period drama comic Tarantino Pride Month travel blockbuster TV movies Ghostbusters docuseries X-Men Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt rt archives debate sag awards cinemax Endgame all-time monster movies Horror spanish language Broadway RT History aapi nfl HBO Max Hear Us Out Music halloween ESPN Academy Awards Martial Arts space Tomatazos book adaptation Star Trek rom-coms zero dark thirty Trailer Travel Channel Dark Horse Comics zombie Ovation Schedule Lifetime Food Network BBC One GLAAD new zealand Amazon Prime Video dragons renewed TV shows singing competition kaiju hist biography Comic-Con@Home 2021 TLC YA universal monsters Character Guide Comics on TV Super Bowl gangster movie zombies deadpool Christmas ABC Family unscripted werewolf HBO Go ID Song of Ice and Fire IFC Films south america series Heroines TV One DC Comics Shudder Tubi History TCA Superheroes Disney Channel USA Network scorecard Film Festival Avengers cancelled TV shows 2015 science fiction mission: impossible marvel comics APB BET Awards chucky FX on Hulu slasher remakes docudrama Lionsgate theme song TBS new star wars movies Hallmark First Reviews nature strong female leads LGBT canceled TV shows Shondaland Alien based on movie politics franchise Sneak Peek Opinion mutant Quiz hollywood fast and furious El Rey slashers Star Wars MSNBC VOD Columbia Pictures war anthology reboot child's play Cosplay VH1 Rocketman Spring TV Netflix screen actors guild Black Mirror spinoff romance dark Animation festival foreign The Academy TIFF Elton John archives dramedy Sundance Now RT21 aliens spy thriller italian book films Hulu 4/20 ITV versus razzies TCA 2017 telelvision Sundance TV 99% social media Sundance YouTube Premium Reality VICE rt labs critics edition TCA Awards crossover Set visit Funimation Superheroe directors marvel cinematic universe revenge Amazon binge GIFs worst movies National Geographic die hard Video Games independent casting TruTV cars Lifetime Christmas movies boxing feel good rotten movies we love MCU criterion critic resources Grammys Awards Tour Emmys 2017 adenture Cannes Disney+ Disney Plus basketball young adult Apple TV+ First Look Fantasy scary movies comics cancelled television Awards batman Certified Fresh quibi Valentine's Day Marvel Television Podcast toronto Tokyo Olympics NYCC BBC America facebook transformers 2016 YouTube Red sports Esquire AMC women TV Tumblr Nickelodeon streaming movies olympics Syfy elevated horror Family American Society of Cinematographers 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Infographic 72 Emmy Awards Warner Bros. DGA Classic Film Countdown suspense 73rd Emmy Awards Musical supernatural sitcom cats prank Emmy Nominations festivals Calendar documentaries james bond australia CW Seed concert biopic Bravo natural history anime harry potter legend nbcuniversal The Arrangement adaptation mcc Baby Yoda king arthur Sci-Fi Chilling Adventures of Sabrina halloween tv Disney Plus award winner teaser 2019 2020 twilight Pop TV Extras Spike Rom-Com technology Wes Anderson superman police drama spain Paramount comiccon Amazon Prime 93rd Oscars comic book movies Fall TV Comic Book Thanksgiving Women's History Month emmy awards Winter TV E3 psychological thriller cults a nightmare on elm street Marvel Studios disaster crime drama hispanic Peacock Election movies Pirates 71st Emmy Awards Britbox crime thriller Image Comics Apple TV Plus Marathons robots serial killer japanese Masterpiece Drama worst SundanceTV boxoffice Writers Guild of America wonder woman Kids & Family cancelled TV series Chernobyl true crime The Walt Disney Company dexter OneApp 2018 witnail Disney streaming service BET obituary Crackle Summer Showtime 21st Century Fox green book Film video target Paramount Network finale rotten documentary thriller Mudbound Oscars dogs dceu SXSW spanish Disney Mystery Comedy Central YouTube Spectrum Originals Reality Competition FX USA 45 royal family historical drama Fox News comic book movie breaking bad The CW PlayStation Action See It Skip It rt labs The Purge japan lord of the rings christmas movies LGBTQ CBS golden globes DirecTV NBA TNT President kong sequels golden globe awards justice league 007 canceled what to watch CBS All Access Television Critics Association GoT Binge Guide know your critic Acorn TV name the review ghosts Biopics spider-man laika WarnerMedia free movies Teen Photos latino Cartoon Network high school Winners cooking Starz Freeform Stephen King posters Pet Sematary Trivia Mary Poppins Returns talk show Nominations Turner television Captain marvel discovery hispanic heritage month stoner game of thrones Pixar Year in Review San Diego Comic-Con fresh Rock ABC Fox Searchlight Box Office Walt Disney Pictures toy story mockumentary 24 frames 2021 richard e. Grant composers blockbusters Epix cops Marvel comedies Pacific Islander hidden camera CMT indie children's TV vampires E! crime classics kids satire miniseries 90s Premiere Dates Comedy