The new alternative comedy series “Baskets” brings fewer laughs than expected, but a protagonist hell-bent on achieving his dreams makes this show an interesting watch.
Styled after alternative comedies, the new half-hour comedy is filled with introspection, as Chip Baskets, played by comedian Zach Galifianakis — known for his role in the “Hangover” films — satisfies his dreams of becoming a professional clown. While this quieter style might throw off hordes of “Hangover” fans looking for a quick laugh, its different take on comedy will keep them around.
The show centers on Baskets’ struggle to make it in clowning after his return home to Bakersfield, Calif. after flunking out of French clowning school. Strapped for cash, living in a motel, dealing with his “successful” twin brother, who runs a one-man community college, and trapped in an abusive relationship, Baskets starts as a rodeo clown dodging charging bulls for $4 an hour.
This series establishes its dark comedic tone in the first episode. When Basket performs a melodramatic clowning act in low light and a shower of glittering tinsel, the rodeo crowd boos and hisses. When a bull ends the show and sends Baskets flying through the air, the hate transforms into delirious cheering. Baskets, though skilled in traditional French clowning, will have to learn the rules of a new, harsher world if he is to make it as a performer.
Galifianakis’ deadpan delivery and comedic timing is the highlight of this series. He shows off his acting skills by playing both of the twin brothers in multiple scenes. His performances give viewers just enough comedy to avoid being turned off by the depressing world his characters live in.
Shirking the traditionally bright and sunny lighting of traditional comedies, “Baskets” is dimly lit throughout. When Chip returns to Bakersfield, the bleak, bright desert seems to bleach any hope fostered from his clowning days in France as he plunges into a surreal world mirroring the sad world he lives in.
One of the the series’ low points is that despite its refreshing introspection, some jokes can come off as offensive to certain demographics. For instance, homosexuality is used as a derogatory compliment, and a female character is played by a cross-dressing man for laughs. Additionally, the show’s glaring lack of diversity in its first episode makes the show less enjoyable.
“Baskets” is no “Big Bang Theory,” and it won’t ever be as big as “The Office,” but it should be a delight for those seeking alternative comedy and a tour of the competitive clowning world.