News

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

Baskets1

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.


BASKETS MAY BE THE WORLD’S FIRST “SLAPSTICK DRAMA”

Baskets7

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.”


BASKETS IS LESS ABOUT CLOWNING THAN IT IS ABOUT FAMILY DYNAMICS

Baskets3

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.”


MARTHA KELLY IS (SORT OF) ACTING

Baskets5

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.”


BAKERSFIELD IS A STATE OF MIND… WHERE DREAMS GO TO DIE

Baskets8

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.”


BASKETS PROUDLY HIGHLIGHTS COSTCO’S IN-HOUSE BRAND

Baskets2

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

      IKR

  • 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

technology X-Men spain PBS YouTube Mary poppins ABC Family Comedy TCA Tarantino versus CW Seed Election game of thrones spinoff social media A24 Comics on TV Apple TV+ blockbuster Elton John award winner Tumblr robots Mystery Red Carpet natural history name the review Superheroe Reality foreign Nominations TCA 2017 kids zombie 2016 Pirates facebook romance Lucasfilm Emmy Nominations Disney Plus Amazon Disney+ Disney Plus Pop Peacock Sony Pictures Countdown green book political drama Disney streaming service IFC Turner Heroines American Society of Cinematographers comiccon cancelled TV series USA 2020 casting E3 anime dramedy doctor who E! Creative Arts Emmys 2015 psychological thriller supernatural police drama talk show Awards Tour Rocky Nat Geo Netflix Christmas movies Columbia Pictures GoT renewed TV shows Mindy Kaling Lifetime Christmas movies Hallmark television 2019 Grammys Walt Disney Pictures theme song 24 frames History dragons Classic Film Ghostbusters BBC America crime drama Emmys indie Trivia Character Guide Animation IFC Films Hallmark Christmas movies Holiday Paramount Network series New York Comic Con Chernobyl DirecTV Disney VH1 Anna Paquin TV renewals richard e. Grant Sundance Now Paramount vampires cancelled Rocketman Star Trek slashers hispanic OWN TIFF dc Family Bravo CBS Ellie Kemper The CW tv talk RT21 A&E Pixar Opinion Vudu streaming witnail WGN NBC Cannes politics travel Logo Dark Horse Comics Syfy singing competition true crime ESPN Toys Masterpiece El Rey Summer TruTV sports space Drama movies 45 National Geographic Adult Swim GIFs Winners Holidays Film Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Musicals Fantasy cooking ratings Oscars Showtime quibi psycho Musical Rock festivals disaster Binge Guide spy thriller FXX Apple LGBTQ HBO TNT Lionsgate Acorn TV mockumentary Tomatazos The Witch San Diego Comic-Con 21st Century Fox Marvel latino nature Crunchyroll MCU USA Network independent Interview comic The Walking Dead LGBT Marvel Television Trophy Talk zombies thriller cars justice league children's TV unscripted comics Winter TV Amazon Prime Superheroes breaking bad harry potter Fall TV Brie Larson Thanksgiving adaptation animated Star Wars Valentine's Day Sci-Fi docudrama canceled Horror Britbox Set visit Epix crime Christmas YA werewolf Lifetime jamie lee curtis AMC game show HBO Max Starz Shudder MTV finale mutant medical drama Women's History Month FOX revenge SundanceTV SDCC Spectrum Originals south america RT History Shondaland Best and Worst Certified Fresh period drama Comedy Central SXSW sitcom stand-up comedy Arrowverse discovery Pride Month zero dark thirty Kids & Family TV Western serial killer 2017 Watching Series Cartoon Network Martial Arts cancelled TV shows Spring TV Country Netflix Pet Sematary The Arrangement Television Academy MSNBC Turner Classic Movies dceu Fox News President ghosts Teen boxoffice TCM Captain marvel Freeform The Purge hist biography YouTube Premium crossover CNN Sneak Peek Mudbound transformers First Reviews CMT miniseries Esquire Apple TV Plus blaxploitation YouTube Red FX canceled TV shows Extras Biopics Awards Writers Guild of America TV Land Podcast Super Bowl Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Photos halloween NYCC BET Stephen King ITV Box Office DC Comics 2018 cats Food Network 007 cartoon rotten movies we love Black Mirror Crackle VICE binge Film Festival Reality Competition Action Disney Channel PaleyFest spider-man toy story aliens DC Universe Year in Review spanish language based on movie elevated horror Schedule ABC Hulu romantic comedy Warner Bros. cancelled television Mary Tyler Moore APB Nickelodeon Marathons adventure Calendar video Quiz christmas movies Song of Ice and Fire book Music Ovation batman cops BBC diversity historical drama First Look Amazon Prime Video free movies cults Polls and Games what to watch Premiere Dates anthology Spike science fiction Mary Poppins Returns Cosplay See It Skip It WarnerMedia Infographic strong female leads 71st Emmy Awards crime thriller Trailer DGA Rom-Com CBS All Access GLAAD TLC DC streaming service 20th Century Fox sequel Sundance Comic Book joker Marvel Studios golden globes cinemax war screenings Universal composers Video Games teaser TBS