by Joseph Shelton
The best comedy on tv, which places it fairly high in the running for best show of any kind, is about a sad man who lives in Bakersfield, California, though he’d rather be in France. He’s married to a woman who told him she’ll never love him. He’s lost and he doesn’t know who he is, but knows he wants to be a clown. A French clown, if possible. His name is Chip Baskets, and the show takes its title from his surname.
Baskets is currently in its third season on FX (though seasons one and two are available at your local, friendly, independently-owned video store), and each season has mixed hilarity and pathos to slightly different effect. The first season, which may be the funniest, cleaves closest to the kind of cringe-comedy that Curb Your Enthusiasm and others have been mining for some time. But with the second two seasons the show blooms into something wholly unexpected and also kind of rare on television these days, a comedy that sees both the absurdity and the gorgeous, sunset-nostalgic beauty of Americana. In its sad and lovely view we see people hoboing up and down the rails, and elderly cowboys at the rodeo, but some less gorgeous but no less iconic symbols of America, like Costco, and horrible local commercials.
Zach Galifianakis is fantastic as both Chip and his twin brother Dale (who inexplicably has a Southern accent not shared by his brother). But the best reason to watch the show, surprisingly enough, is to see Louie Anderson, that most gregarious of 80s and 90s standup comics, playing Christine Baskets, the twins’ mother. That performance, which becomes more central to the show as it goes on, is one of the greatest ever delivered in drag. It is artful, subtle, and uncompromisingly humane, even when Christine, one of the best-observed characters I’ve ever seen on tv, is being kind of awful.
Baskets is intimately involved with its character’s interior lives in a way that most sitcoms aren’t. You’ll find yourself genuinely moved by moments that take place in Arby’s, and by the death of a character who previously adopted the moniker of Keanu Reeves’s character from The Matrix. You’ll pause to examine the poignancy of having a coyote locked in your apartment.
How else can I put it? Watch Baskets. It’s what’s been missing from your life, even though you didn’t know it.