Leaving Clown Town

Baskets Is Set in My Hometown and I’m Glad It’s Ending

Zach Galifianakis’ oddball dramedy Baskets is ending after four seasons. For me, also a failure who moved back to the same town in the show, I’m glad the story arc is coming full circle because the final season finally offers a little hope…y’know, for the characters.

Zach Galifianakis is Chip Baskets, who flunked out of fancy French clown school and returned to his (my) hometown of Bakersfield, California to live with his mother and twin brother, and be a rodeo clown. Bakersfield is Chip’s purgatory, the anti-Paris, filled with My Name Is Earl-adjacent characters like Arby’s worker Juggalo Jode, a wizened Meemaw, and toothless rodeo boss Eddie. The past three seasons have followed Chip & company as they clumsily pursue their dreams while coping with each other’s foibles –but season 4 shows them beginning to bloom at last.

 

Chip gets serious with Juggalo Jode
Courtesy FX
Becoming My Own Baskets Case

I wish I could say that I moved to New York City and met an awesome chick to have amazing adventures with — then i’d be living the plot of Broad City.  Instead, I moved back to my parents’ house in Bakersfield after a ruined marriage and curtailed teaching career, and spent a lot of time feeling lost and sorry for myself. I felt like i had been living Chip’s character arc, and his sense of tragicomic failure felt downright documentary. I watched him forlornly squirting condiments in an Arby’s apron and cringed thinking about my own unglamorous, low-paying 9-to-5. The toxic relationship, the typical personal squabbles, the fall from grace – i’d been through it too. And watching a frustrated, defeated Chip still trying to navigate it all — in the same hometown I had returned to in my disgrace, no less — was strangely comforting.

 

Even though Bakersfield is only a 90-minute drive from LA, the show wasn’t filmed locally so there are zero authentic buildings or landmarks on screen. The creators nailed the dusty desert ennui with exterior shots from a town closer to LA, but Bakersfield doesn’t have a rodeo. (In reality, Chip would probably be running illegal slot machines and selling unpackaged cigarettes out of a half-empty strip mall.) Bakersfield is as unpretentious and sneak-up-on-ya beautiful as the show’s characters, and there is no better town for our screwball family to play out their quirks and crises.

Baskets highlights Galifianakis’ broad chops in playing twins with opposite personalities, and bills a bewigged and brilliant Louie Anderson as Chip’s Costco-loving Bakersfield mom, Christine. Anderson won three Emmys for the role, saying he channeled his own mother and “all the best TV moms” to play the fussy, caftaned matriarch. Anderson’s effortless maternal range acts as the family’s psychological anchor, and Galifianakis wrangles all the drama and dysfunction with a deadpan absurdity that deepens the show’s emotional register.

Louie Anderson is Bakersfield mom Christine
Courtesy FX
Desert Blooms

But now after three years of pratfalls and fumbling for happiness, season 4 offers a major pivot for Chip & his family. With big changes like a life coach, a wedding and a new condo near a bullet train (which, in a Beckett-like twist, won’t be built for several years), the future looks, well, as bright as it can for the Baskets clan. And while it will be bittersweet to see the show end in a couple weeks, I hope Chip finds a way to love his life, whether he makes it out of Bakersfield or not. It’s my wish for all of us in this dusty desert town, and beyond.

Baskets” airs Thursday (for a little while longer) on FX.

Rachel Llewellyn

Rachel Llewellyn is a saucy media mercenary who's worked at Curve Magazine and Girlfriends Magazine in San Francisco, and ghost-edited two noir novels. She's also translated academic material, written corporate website content, taught adult school, and produced morning television news. Rachel lives in Bakersfield, California, where she hikes with her dog and pushes paper in the government sector.

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