Hit or Sh**: FX’s BASKETS

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

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If you’ve made a habit of reading my articles or keep finding yourself here in a drunken stupor (thanks for the page views, mom!), you’ve probably noticed that in my bio it mentions my hometown of Bakersfield, California. So when you heard that BASKETS was set in Bakersfield you probably were as eager as I was to find out what I had to say about it. As much as I’d love to go into my storied personal history, I’ve got a job to do ‒ to tell you my opinion on stuff.

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I get paid in the validation brought on by strangers mildly enjoying my work… Here’s a picture of Louis C.K.

BASKETS stars Zach Galifianakis, who created the show along with Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel. Krisel is known for his work with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim on TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB! and the pilot definitely carries those vibes. The show opens on Galifianakis’ character Chip Baskets failing out of clown college in Paris, because unfortunately he doesn’t speak French. He explains to his French girlfriend Penelope (Sabina Sciubba) that he’s flunking and has to return to America, to his hometown of Bakersfield in California, the “Sunshine State.” He then asks her to marry him, to which she agrees after some consideration and his acknowledgement that she doesn’t love him and only wants to travel to America. Regardless, Chip is delighted.

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Despite what you’ve seen while driving through to Vegas, there’s totally water in Bakersfield

Thus brings the show to Bakersfield, which was disappointingly (for me) shot in Santa Clarita. Fortunately, Santa Clarita plays a very good Bakersfield, and the dulling of the color palette helps as well. The town plays as a stark contrast to Baskets’ classical dreams, full of barely intelligible elderly cowboys, questionable motels, and the disdain of his family; a familiar landscape to be sure. The rest of the episode follows Chip as he tries to fulfill his dreams in a place that isn’t the most conducive to seeing that happen. Y’see, Bakersfield has primarily given the world country artists like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard (someday we’ll force one of the music editors to dive face first into country music), but it’s also given the world the band KoRn. There’s literally a street behind our main convention center called “KoRn Row,” so BASKETS’ premise of a man trying to kick-start an artistically refined, classical career is understandably humorous.

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I wasn’t kidding

What I really liked about BASKETS was how much I felt like I related to the premise; someone leaves to pursue their dream, falters, then has to return home and start from scratch. I don’t entirely relate to being a rodeo clown, but I do relate to Chip as someone who is trying very hard to make the best of a bad situation, as someone who feels that they’re misunderstood by everyone around them but is actually kind of a prick. It’s a melancholic exploration of dreams derailed, a darkly humorous memento mori to one’s future.

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Too dark… Here’s Galifianakis with fake teeth! Whimsy!

The show gets laughs, but not in the traditional sense of joke after joke after joke. There’s a very specific pace that BASKETS employs when it comes to humor, and a very particular variety, which is where the TIM AND ERIC vibes come in. To illustrate, at one point Chip has to borrow money from his brother Dale (also played by Galifianakis), who happens to be the dean of Baskets Career College, and we’re treated to a commercial for the college which was one bad animation away from a Heidecker and Wareheim bit.

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Marketing strategy by Dobis PR

The performances are great despite Galifianakis playing Chip as just about every character he’s ever played. It works, though. There’s also Martha, the endearingly awkward Costco insurance agent played by Martha Kelly who ferries Chip around after his French scooter  (“the best scooters are French”) is totaled in a bee-related accident. The two make for an excellent duo, providing uncomfortable foils for each other. Also of note is the appearance of Louie Anderson in drag as Mrs. Baskets. Anderson’s scene provides excellent backstory into Chip’s mindset, as well as an accurate representation of your mom who keeps hiding her mild disappointment that you chose to major in Screenwriting.

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Maybe that’s just me… On an unrelated note, does anyone else remember the show LIFE WITH LOUIE ? Just me again? Okay

All in all, BASKETS gets a “Hit” because it’s a well-crafted and funny pilot, but my issue is that I’m not 100% invested in tuning in for the next episode. After having watched it, I don’t think to myself “I really want to watch the next one of this.” It’s more a sense of “this was good ‒ good job everyone,” and then I move on. For everyone else who’s tasted the waters of sweet, sweet success and felt a spiritual connection to the “shrim” video in TIM AND ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, I recommend BASKETS for your viewing pleasure.

Verdict: Hit

BASKETS airs on Thursdays on FX

Steven Porfiri is a Crossfader guest contributor that has been slowly learning what true patrician culture is about after spending a lifetime in Bakersfield, CA. In addition to Crossfader you can find him at Top Shelf Gaming.

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