An obvious benefit of a crowded television landscape, where original programming seems to burst from every network or streaming service or random website available to the public, is that niche visions receive adequate space to flourish. Case in point: a show like Baskets most likely could not exist at any other previous point in TV history, let alone run for four seasons with such low ratings. But Jonathan Krisel and Zach Galifianakis’ tragicomic series about a struggling clown found enough air to breathe for the handful of people invested in its success. There’s something to be said for small miracles.
Whenever I try to describe Baskets, I fall back on its hyper specificity. Everything from the tone to the sense of humor can’t exactly be pinned down or described with a convenient label. Most of the dialogue scans as offhandedly deadpan, but it’s almost entirely straitlaced. Jokes blossom in the margins or arrive in casually unconventional forms. In many ways, Baskets’ visual and comedic style feels indebted to silent film comedy, with a strong emphasis on the sight gag and slapstick. (“We tend to fall down a lot,” Dale admits to a stranger after he and his mother tumbled down the steps of the Sacramento State Capitol in last week’s episode.) Sure, Baskets revolves around universal themes of family and love and finding happiness in a harsh world, but it’s never presented in a typical package. In other words, it’s genuinely offbeat.
After four years, Baskets ends its run sweetly and with appropriately little fanfare, fitting for such a modest show. “Moving On” mostly follows Martha and the Baskets clan journey to save Chip from the clutches of Tammy (Andrea Marcovicci), a life coach who convinces him to come live on her enormous compound, tend to her garden, and refocus his energy. After Christine agreed to sell the rodeo back to California for construction of the bullet train, still one of the strangest and funniest threads of the season, and decided to move to Denver with Ken, Chip has once again been left stranded without purpose. Once he was CEO of a moderately successful small business, who occasionally performed some minor grief clowning on the side. Now, he’s just Chip Baskets, directionless and existentially unfulfilled. Tammy’s New Age, return-to-the-Earth style of rehabilitation could be what Chip needs.
Of course, it only takes a few scant details for Dale to be convinced that Chip has been suckered into a cult. Soon Martha, Chip’s ex-wife Penelope, and Dale hatch a scheme to abduct Chip from Tammy’s compound, complete with ski masks and a handgun that accidentally goes off in Martha’s direction. (Luckily, the bullet hits her arm cast, stopping it from causing any real damage. “I guess carpal tunnel has its perks,” she later remarks.) Dale eventually locks Chip into the goat cage so their mother can deal out some tough love.
The most interesting element of “Moving On” lies with Jonathan Krisel’s refusal to stereotype Tammy. Though her insistence to keep Chip away from his friends might be slightly suspicious, there’s really no indication she’s operating under ulterior motives. Everyone believes Chip has been put under a trance, but Tammy mostly wants him to prioritize his own happiness instead of just going along with the whims of his family. Christine obviously views her with disdain and suspicion, believing that she’s trying to usurp her maternal role, yet Tammy, like Penelope before her, just wants him to live his life outside of his mother’s shadow. “You’re gonna do him more damage day after day after day. I can see it in your eyes,” Tammy tells Christine, and though that comes at the end of a tense confrontation, she’s not really trying to be cruel. She recognizes that Christine’s overpowering love for her son might be permanently stunting him.
When Chip and Christine finally talk in the goat prison, they both organically arrive at that conclusion. Christine has struggled to protect Chip from pain and change by superficially letting him run free but always relying on the umbilical cord just in case. This season, Chip proves himself to be an entirely capable businessman, friend, brother, and son, yet it’s still more or less been tied to his family. Christine makes all the important decisions, like flip-flopping on the rodeo or abandoning her new house for a life in Denver, and just assumes her children will go along with it regardless of their own feelings. It’s from a protective instinct, but it’s ultimately misguided, as Chip earnestly insists near the episode’s end:
“I’m not a boy. I’m a grownup. And I’m a clown, you know? And when I clown, sometimes I fall and slip on a banana, and I get back up and I step on a rake, and it hits me in the face, and I get up again, just like I do as a grownup. I just want to treat me like an adult. And I’ll do the same for you.”
It’s a high point for Galifianakis, whose performance as Chip has exhibited so many different comedic and dramatic shades over the past four years. This last season, however, he’s tapped into a low-key sincerity that compels entirely on its own merits. He might not ever be a professional clown again, but he still wants a strong enough identity to get out of bed every morning. Now that Christine lives two states away, he can finally figure out what that identity might be.
“Moving On” isn’t the best or funniest episode of Baskets; it’s a little shapeless and clunky, and it tries to do too much thematic heavy lifting in the last 10 minutes. But it still leaves every character on a good note. Chip visits Martha in the hospital and watches an episode of Judge Joe Brown with her. Dale and Ken share a beer together. Chip sends off her mother and stepfather into a glorious Coloradoan future. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, but he’s finally at peace with the uncertainty. And just before the credits role, Krisel includes one last glorious shot of Chip in full clown regalia, lit like an unsung angel. Maybe that’s Baskets’ lasting, most resonant memory.
- Ian Roberts cameos as one of Dale’s trailer park buddies, and he knows just how to lure Chip away from Tammy: “Sugar cubes. Sugar activates the opiate receptors in your brain. People can’t resist it. That’s why women eat so much chocolate on their periods.”
- “He may be one of 100 husbands to this woman right now.” “That’s right. Or even if he’s the fifth husband, I have a problem with that.”
- “I brought you some flowers. They say it cheers people up. I don’t like them myself.”
- In case you’re curious, the song is an original by actress and singer Sabina Sciubba entitled “I Know You Too Well.”
- This marks the official end of The A.V. Club’s coverage of Baskets! I know coverage has been spotty after the first two seasons, but I’m glad Erik Adams and Danette Chavez gave me the opportunity to check in at the beginning and end of this season. Thanks to any and all who read these recaps! Hope to see you elsewhere in the future.