Baskets, which stars Zach Galifianakis as a struggling aspiring clown, might be the weirdest new TV show to broadcast in the last year—a year, we might add, that was marked by 409 scripted shows airing on multiple platforms, earning the designation #PeakTV for the cacophony of options.
Yes, Baskets, featuring Galifianakis—himself a gifted sad clown in more mainstream entertainment offerings, be it The Hangover series or HBO’s own unique, now defunct comedy Bored to Death—is weird. It is absurd. And bleak. Unusual. Off-putting. Sometimes boring, and mostly quite unfunny.
It also might one of the smartest shows airing this year.
There is a singular ambition and commitment to conceit in Baskets, which Galifianakis created alongside Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel, who directs and co-writes Portlandia.
It’s the kind of ambition and commitment that lifts any weird, absurd, bleak, unusual, off-putting, sometimes boring, and mostly quite unfunny Saturday Night Live sketch to critical hosannas, reviewers exalting at the focus of its creative genius and its aggressive embrace of atypical vision.
It’s the kind of ambition and commitment that is required of a series to announce itself in the glut of #PeakTV programming. To be heard above all that noise you need to make an atonal squeak. It might make some people cringe, but at least they’re noticing—and maybe they’ll appreciate the eccentricity, too.
In a TV world dominated and perhaps even oppressed by “Bazinga!,” we have more appreciation for the “huh?”
And “huh?” is exactly what you say—and say quite often—while watching Baskets.
Baskets, the Zach Galifianakis show about the sad clown.
Chip Baskets (Galifianakis) is attending the Académie de Clown Française when we meet him. Well not so much attending as he is flunking out, a victim of a language barrier.
His French clown teacher demonstrates slipping on a banana peel. “Are you OK?!” Baskets asks, startled. “Oh, it was a bit.” He miffs every other lesson, unable to understand a word of French. It’s all quite heartbreaking to witness.
Does it sound serious? That’s because it is. From minute one, Baskets and the Académie de Clown Française is portrayed with all the dramatic grit of a schooldays arc in A Beautiful Mind, and leaves you wondering what would have happened if Stephen Hawking suffered a language barrier in The Theory of Everything.
“Being a clown is the most important thing in the world to me,” Baskets says. This isn’tha-ha-ha a bozo goes to clown school and let the hijinks ensue! It is an artist aspiring to his art. It’s the impossible dream, and it’s devastating when it’s crushed.
This is a comedy starring Zach Galifianakis about a clown and it is devastating.