Thursday, January 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'Baskets' - Chip Baskets Returns from France and Gets a Job at the Rodeo in 'Renoir'

FX's Baskets - Episode 1.01 "Renoir"

A strong command of French is needed to really excel in French Clown School. Chip Baskets finds this out the hard way.

Baskets is a really weird show. I'm not entirely sure what it's striving to be and what the show actually is in this first episode. So that makes it somewhat difficult to write a review about "Renior." It's a show that needs a couple of episodes under its belt in order to determine what its comedic strengthens and originalities are. In this first episode, Martha Kelly and Louie Anderson stand out because of the deadpan delivery of their very simple dialogue. The joke about Louie Anderson actually playing Chip Baskets' mother is played completely straight. It really works too because it's just an accepted fact about this universe. Meanwhile, Kelly earns plenty of laughs throughout this first episode. Some come from a number of visual gags - like her running forward and into things with her car. But her delivery is also noticeably great. However, this isn't a show about Kelly or Anderson. It's a show about Zach Galifianakis as Chip Baskets, a wannabe clown who can't seem to do anything quite right. It's a very off-kilter show. This episode is establishing that tone. It just comes about very awkwardly with the main story.

"Renoir" is largely walking through the life of Chip Baskets. He wants to be a clown more than anything else in the world. That is the only thing that defines him as a character. This is what he wants to be and he is doing whatever it takes in order to do it. But he's also a very weird character. In order to become a clown, he goes to a school in France even though he does not speak any French. The class he is sitting in on isn't even telling the students any revolutionary concepts about the art of clowning. But it's something that Chip takes very seriously because he doesn't know what's going on. He's committed to this profession but his choices make that very difficult to do. He deliberate makes these weird choices that come out of nowhere. That's where a lot of the humor of this episode comes from.

Chip wants to be a clown. So he goes to school in France. Chip wants to keep his relationship with a beautiful woman who's not interested in him going. So he decides to propose to her while not being able to order a fancy meal to mark the occasion. He wants to make a living as a clown. So he gets hired by a rodeo in order to repeatedly get hit by a rampaging bull. He worries about money. So he focuses much of his time and efforts on getting forty dollars for his wife so that she can get HBO. All of these are very weird decisions that provide a little peak into the mind that is Chip Baskets. None of them make a whole lot of sense. And yet, it's the reality that Chip has created for himself. This is what his life is. So, it needs to have an impact when he is quietly crying to himself over the pain of not being respected as a clown. It's very depressing and doesn't always succeed with the type of humor it's going for. Chip taking a long time at the drive-thru window because he wants beverages that the place doesn't have is a scene that does linger for too long. But that's also the comedic humor of the show. It's about Martha needing to pull in backwards just to accommodate Chip's needs. She is willing to drop everything in order to drive him around all day long. That's an oddity that just becomes accepted over this episode even though Chip has no interest in hearing about her life - just whether or not she lost her virginity in the hotel room where he is currently living.

So again, it's going to take a couple of episodes in order to inform a more full opinion about Baskets. That's not always in a show's best interests. It's usually best to hook an audience with the first episode and give them a reason to want to come back and watch more. That isn't immediately there with Baskets. It's largely just another half-hour dramedy about a sad sack, middle-aged white guy. That type of show needs to have a very specific point-of-view in order to work - like FX's Louie or Comedy Central's Review. This show does have a distinct tone. It just needs time in order to be properly fleshed out. Then, it will be able to show just how captivating or intricate this world and its main character can be. However, the question becomes: how many people are willing to wait to see what Baskets becomes instead of just giving up after this first episode? It's designed as a niche show. But what's the purpose if this first episode isn't a great selling point?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Renoir" was written by Louis C.K., Zach Galifianakis & Jonathan Krisel and directed by Jonathan Krisel.
  • It's very amusing that Chip has a twin brother and that his family has another set of twins as well. Plus, he's the least successful of the siblings - even though his mom is completely supportive of his clowning. His twin runs a community college while his adopted siblings are a race car driver and professional mountain climber.
  • Lots of jokes are made about Martha's appearance. The Baskets family infer a lot about her simply by the way that she is dressed. These jokes don't always come across well. Sometimes they are very mean-spirited.
  • There should be more of an explanation for why Martha is willing to go above and beyond in order to help Chip out in his current situation. She's willing to drive him everywhere even though she very clearly has a good job.
  • Even though he's not a successful clown, Chip still gets laughs while being a clown. That comes mostly from him being hit by the bull in order to stop his horrible act.