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The Joy of Cringing: ‘Baskets’ Season 3
January 23, 2018  | By Eric Gould

FX seems to have a corner on cringe comedy, or anti-humor or whatever you want to call it. Louie, Baskets, Atlanta and more recently, Better Things have all amputated the punch line from situation comedy, and the awkward and unfortunate have been reattached as the prosthetic amusements.

Irony has been king for a while, and while there still remain plenty of sitcoms with a stream of straight-ahead jokes, the ones without studio audiences, gags-per-minute and laugh tracks have well enough audience share and are getting renewed amongst regular critical acclaim.

Enter the dour, cringe-worthy and always awkward Baskets, returning for its third season Tuesday night, January 23, 10 p.m. ET, on FX. (And speaking of cringe-worthiness, Baskets, while co-created by Zach Galifianakis, writer-director Jonathan Krisel [Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Portlandia] and Louis C.K., Louis is conspicuously absent from the 2018 FX media guide.)

Audience favorite Galifianakis (right, The Hangover and Between Two Ferns) reprises his dual roles as Chip Baskets, a failed circus and rodeo clown and his bungling, egotistical brother Dale as they now join their mother Christine (Louie Anderson in a gender-crossing performance, top) in a new family business venture – buying and re-opening the shabby, out-of-business Bakersfield rodeo that had once thrown Chip out on his ear.

The brothers are still intolerant of each other but have taken it down a notch from last season, when in a hilarious, knock-down, drag-out sibling fight, they trashed Christine’s house while she was out shopping.

Accordingly, the FX anti-comedies like Baskets have been steeped in their characters ineptitude and bankable failures.

There is plenty more to come in the first two episodes available for review with Dale getting swindled out of the gate, and a chorus of surly cowboys always at the ready with quick-draw slurs for the Baskets.

And, still seeming perfectly matched in their passivity and cluelessness, Chip and gal pal Martha (Martha Kelly, right) continue their er, friendship, er, star-crossed romance, with Chip’s casual rudeness substituting for the standard sitcom will-they-or-won’t-they infatuation.

Like the rest of us, the Baskets characters think they deserve more. But their everyday sorrow and ignominy are also underpinned, at the bottom of it all, by a shred of grace and perseverance, and often, at their lowest moments.

Perhaps the queen of it all is Anderson, in his Emmy-winning role as Christine, the long-suffering mother of Chip and Dale. (Another set of twins, the adopted Cody and Logan, the uncharacteristically successful “DJ Twins” who are always on the road and only seen on Skype, have not appeared yet this season.)

Anderson is on record as embodying his own mother as the model for his character, who provides a bit of dignity and elegance under the weight of her son’s self-absorption and narcissism.

In 2017, he explained to Deadline Hollywood, “I remember her more than once saying, “Don’t you love a delicious, ice-cold glass of water?” I’d go, “Yeah, I do actually like ice water.” You know what made it special? My mom had a crystal pitcher that she put it in, with ice, and then she poured it into nice glasses that she got somewhere. That mattered to her. She wanted us to feel special, and she did that to each of us.”

And that’s likely the payoff of Baskets and other comedies of its ilk, on a diet devoid of network yuks – finding the special in the everyday… and smiling through the pain.

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