Galifianakis Makes a Fine “Cloon” in “Baskets”
You may think you know what to expect when Louis C.K. and FX Networks combines Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) and the unremarkable world of rodeo clowns. Chances are, you’re completely wrong. “Baskets” is a weirdo comedy drawn to very specific comic sensibilities. It stars Galifianakis as Chip Baskets, a failed student of the French art of clowning who translates his limited experience into the exceedingly lowbrow world of rodeo clowning. But one of the things I love best about the series is that Galifianakis is playing the situation relatively straight. Sure, he’s still funny in it. But he pulls the comedy by surrounding this hyper-serious character with lovable lunatics.
“Baskets” begins with a brief prologue in Paris. Chip tries to adjust to clowning school with one major drawback – he can’t speak a single word of French. After dropping out / failing miserably, he proposes to a French woman, Penelope (singer Sabina Sciubba), and moves back home to a dust bowl in California. Penelope’s proposal is accepted only when he agrees to two terms: she obtains a green card and, when she meets a more attractive man, she can leave him. Later, after demanding $40 for HBO, she ridicules him on the phone: “You look like a ‘cloon,’ but you are not a ‘cloon.’ ”
Sure enough, Chip is not a “cloon,” but it never stops him. His comic attempts at blending his Parisian “art” with the new rodeo gig as Baskets the Clown are met with annoyed boredom by his audience. It’s not until he begins to completely ignore the bulls when he grows an audience. That is, of course, thanks to the many hits and spills he takes.
The show centers on Chip’s dramatic plight, and Galifianakis is supported by some other very funny comic presences. He plays Chip’s flamboyant twin brother Dale (get it? Chip and Dale?) as a much more successful, lower-aiming nuisance. And, thanks to a moped accident caused by a bee in his helmut, he meets Martha Brooks (a nicely underplayed Martha Kelly), an insurance adjuster who is apparently so lonely that she gladly endures Chip’s constant insults and bad behavior. Finally, the great Louie Anderson inexplicably and wonderfully plays Chip’s mother. There’s a bizarre sequence in the pilot in which Anderson guzzles some Gatorade and then randomly spits it out without explanation. It’s a bizarrely beautiful comic moment. Clearly, we need to be spending a great deal of time with Anderson’s Mom Baskets through the remainder of the season.
“Baskets” manages to walk the line between absurdism and lowbrow comedy an interesting and unique manner. I suspect the tone of the series is very close to Galifianakis’s heart as it suits him incredibly well. Again, this experimental comedy won’t appeal to a broad audience, but you could do far worse. In the end, it’s Chip Baskets’ steely determination to make something great out of nothing at all that serves up the most reliable comedy. As such, it’s kind of the perfect Zach Galifianakis vehicle, and, for now, I’m all in.