When Baskets began, it focused on the foibles of a wannabe professional clown, Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis), who trained in Paris before being forced to return to his hometown of Bakersfield, California. There, Chip attempted to bring his Parisian “cloon” sensibilities to the local rodeo crowd, without much appreciation for their aesthetic merits. Baskets was always both strange and funny, embracing a now rarely-seen physical comedy when it came to Chip’s failures. But as it’s progressed, the series has leaned in to its sweeter side to its benefit.
The change has also come as the series has moved away from the shadow of Louis CK, in the wake of his scandal, and become entirely co-creator Jonathan Krisel’s show. Krisel also directs the series, which overlays a beautiful, distinctive, and indie film-like filter to the story of what is essentially an ordinary Bakersfield family. But nothing about Baskets is ordinary, most especially its most earnest character, Chip’s mother Christine, played by Louie Anderson. Anderson has brought such a gentle, recognizable persona to Christine in the most genuine terms. The fact that Anderson is in drag is never played for laughs; Christine is funny because she’s just a Costco-loving Bakersfield mom. But the casting adds a dimension the character wouldn’t otherwise have in being played by Anderson, even though you so quickly forget it is Anderson in the role.
Christine became an integral part of the series’ main narrative in the third season, which worked to great effect. Her relationship with Ken (Alex Morris), who is now her fiancé, is still one of the show’s major storylines as well as its sweetest. (Move over Coach and Mrs. Coach—Ken and Christine may have one of the most aspirational relationships on TV). It continues to anchor the series with an immense amount of heart, which has helped turn Baskets from just an experimental comedy to an essential, emotional watch.
And yet, Season Four (as of the first four episodes) feels like it’s finally Chip’s time to shine. One of the difficult things about watching Baskets can be seeing Chip continue to fail over and over again. Galifianakis does a really excellent job, though, of balancing Chip’s missteps with both humor and the awareness that Chip is often a jerk. That’s especially true in his relationship with Martha (Martha Kelly), who he bosses around, dismisses, and uses when he finds her friendship convenient. There have been hints of a deeper sincerity there, but Chip’s bluster (augmented in the extreme when it comes to his twin brother Dale) usually wins out.
In these new episodes, though, everyone’s default state has been turned upside down. Christine moves into a new house with Ken, which is a major adjustment for both of them, throwing her out of her comfort zone. Dale is living in a trailer park, estranged from his family, and has become a redneck gun-and-country enthusiast. Martha is becoming more assertive (to the point where she calls herself a bitch, but loves the new power she feels) thanks to the help of a life coach. And after being encouraged by Martha to also consider the life coach’s advice, Chip also starts to make gains in his life. For once, he’s taking on a modicum of responsibility.
Season Four’s central theme seems to be about Chip growing up, something the life coach repeats to him constantly. There’s something both funny and sad about the fact that Chip is 49-years-old and finally moving out of the house, although Christine continues to ask him constantly what color he wants his bedroom painted. First he replies indifferently with “beige,” but later tells Ken he wants plaid (the most Chip-possible response). Eventually, though, he finds a condo where he can have his own space, and starts considering for the first time what his life may look like moving forward. And again, it is only because of Galifianakis that Chip never becomes too acerbic or hapless to make us not want to root for him.
There’s a scene early on in the season that really sums up Chip’s journey in the series. When he moves out and ends up living with his former Arby’s co-worker and his family, he is plagued by their baby’s screams all night. A lesser show would just see Chip going to the all-night pharmacy to get earplugs, but Baskets has him do so in rollerblades. He gracefully glides in wearing a bathrobe and his skates, and ends up fumbling with the shelving in a way that causes him to fall and knock several over with him. We don’t see him crash and we don’t need to; there’s a quick cut to him using the plugs to sleep peacefully for the first time in awhile. And then he’s late for work, and Christine has to cover for him. Success and failure bob up and down for Chip, and arrive via the most unconventional possible means. It’s an ordinary story told in extraordinary ways.
If you’re reading a take on the fourth season of Baskets, it’s likely that you’re already familiar with the show, and just want to confirm it’s still great. It is. Savor it for as long as we have it. And if you are considering the series or have lapsed in watching it, think about catching up. “Are you going to be long?” Christine asks Chip when she stops by his condo for her friends to all use his bathroom (“between her house, the rodeo, and this condo, Christine has bathrooms all over town!” her friend says appreciatively). “Take your time,” she says quickly afterwards. We will.
Baskets Season Four premieres Thursday, June 13th on FX.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat, and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV