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The Hopeless, Hapless Chip ‘Baskets’ Continues
January 19, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

The most heartbreaking show on television is a comedy.

Okay, a really dark comedy.

The happier news is that FX’s Baskets, which returns Thursday at 10 p.m. ET to launch its second season, is also one of the best shows on television.

Just as long as you realize it has moments that will make you feel incredibly sad.

Zach Galifianakis (top) plays Chip Baskets, who has only ever wanted to be a clown. After washing out of clown school in Paris, because he didn’t think to learn French, he became a rodeo clown in Bakersfield.

Unfortunately, as we enter Season 2, the rodeo has closed, and Chip has become a hobo.

That’s inspired because it’s so retro.

Homeless men (and occasional women) who hopped freight trains were once a familiar figure in American culture and lore.

They roamed the country, occasionally finding work and often bedding down in “hobo jungles,” ragged encampments where everyone gathered around a fire and threw a potato into the community stew pot.

You don’t hear much about hobos these days. But that’s the life Chip is living when he falls in with fellow travelers who turn out to make their subsistence money as street performers.

Looks like Chip finally caught a break, except that optimistic illusion quickly crumbles to dust.

Happily, the crumbling is as amusing for viewers as it is frustrating for Chip.  

That’s the skill of Galifianakis and Louis C.K., whose production company put Baskets together. While Louis is not in the show, his style of humor is stamped all over it.

Like Louis’ self-named character on his own show, Chip is a guy who means well, doesn’t always get it right, and regularly has life slam over him like a tsunami wave.

The show’s other main characters have that same sensibility, cheerfully oblivious to their own quirks and their complicity in what keeps happening to them.

Martha Kelly (left, with Galifianakis) plays Martha Brooks, who remains Chip’s loyal friend in spite of the fact Chip continually rejects her. Louie Anderson plays Christine Baskets, mother of Chip and Chip’s twin brother Dale.

Galifianakis has to walk a thin line with Chip. He can’t be too self-aware, yet he has to understand whatever just happened. There are times when he has to be dumb as dishwater – in this season’s premiere, he buys a can of noodles and doesn’t have a can opener, which sparks a wordless scene of amazing comedy – and at other times he has to be a voice of reason when the people around him stray too far off their meds.

He walks that line brilliantly, which is what makes the show’s heartbreak bearable. It’s not crushing Chip, so a tiny voice somewhere assures us it shouldn’t crush us, either.

The new season of Baskets also acquires an added dimension from the real-life announcement that the Barnum & Bailey Circus is folding its tent.

While the unemployed Barnum & Bailey clowns presumably won’t all become hobos, the disappearance of that cultural institution adds poignancy to the struggle of one man who so desperately wants the clown to remain a part of America.

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I'm so glad this show got a second season. It may be too dark for some, but I love it.
Jan 19, 2017   |  Reply
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