This is the most subversive thing I’ve ever seen on tv. Hell, it’d be subversive on the festival circuit, but here it is being piped directly into our living rooms through FX. It’s really, really dark. Dark because the character is failing but also because of the tone, which keeps you off-balance and never quite acknowledges how insane things are. The show is un
funny…in a mental illness sort of way. (Haha
. (?) - cringeworthy, shame-inducing. The repeated humiliation we see Baskets go through can be chalked up to real disturbances in character - his fault, but also sad. He has big dreams but is born to lose and there's no hope of that changing anywhere in sight. It’s like Solondz got together with Robert Downey Sr. but upside down and not even. If Storytelling
's 'Scooby' was more determined and wanted to be a "cloon" maybe he'd end up something like this down the line.
To be clear I'm loving it.
Baskets, about the existential crisis of a rodeo clown, is a bizarre show with a great pedigree that won’t be to everyone’s liking. I watched the first five episodes and still haven’t entirely warmed to it, but my initial impression could be as likely to entice people as scare them away: It plays as if an old Steve Martin picaresque-dumbass movie like The Jerk were done in the style of an earnest, realistic, rather dour indie drama.
As in The Jerk, Dumb and Dumber, and Jim Carrey’s early films, Chip and many other characters seem to have just fallen off the proverbial turnip truck yesterday; they are so deeply ignorant of how the world works (how can Chip not understand that a rodeo-clown job entails going into an arena with bulls?) that much of the series falls under the rubric of what a friend approvingly calls “idiot humor.” But the series is set in recognizably real environments, and the photography, editing, and sound design are often as moody and intense as anything in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson (who successfully injected idiot humor into the dour indie drama in Punch-Drunk Love, and remains the only filmmaker I can think of to have pulled this off). Here and there you get splashes of eerie beauty and darkness, as when Chip tries to give Penelope a heartfelt speech poolside at the motel where they share a crappy room; the ethereal blue of the water makes the moment not funny at all, just painful.
A strain of misanthropy runs throughout Baskets. The show seems to feel for its characters, and feel sorry for them, but its empathy is laced with exhaustion, disgust, and contempt. A lot of these darker feelings have to do with the predicament of the artist in 21st-century America. The series seems genuinely sad and angry that most of the drawling ’Murica types surrounding Chip can’t appreciate his art, and there are moments when he describes the non-artist’s life in a sneering or condescending way (at one point he pronounces the words dishwasher and florist as if they’d been dipped in dung). But at the same time, the show finds Chip ridiculous as well: What kind of a fool, after all, would think of becoming an artist in this world, then be angry that he can’t earn a living doing exactly the kind of art he went to France to learn?
It is a show about artistic disillusionment and professional failure and the paralyzing narcissism that comes from really, really wanting something you really, really cannot seem to get.
Baskets is steeped in the unsettling indignation of a man unable to get the world to see him as he sees himself.
One thing the show gets painfully right: the more sickening side effects of self-centered struggle. Failure has made Chip carelessly, lazily cruel, particularly to Martha (a virtuosically affectless Martha Kelly), the insurance adjuster who becomes his personal chauffeur and de facto best friend. He is unkind in the way of someone so consumed by their own issues they cannot imagine how they could possibly hurt anyone else. But, in the show’s depressive universe, he’s not even at the bottom of the misery totem pole: on Baskets, everyone is somewhere between tragically human and quietly grotesque. They are off-putting, but they are also complicated. It would be easy to dismiss the show itself as mean-spirited if it didn’t give its most pathetic ultra-underdogs moments of dignified competence.