This review of Baskets contains spoilers.
Baskets Season 3 Episode 1
What’s fun and exciting about Baskets is how it lets its drama take it to vastly different places from season to season. Much of the second season was about Chip riding trains with a group of hobo friends and then, afterwards, reacclimating to his life back home. It also covered his twin brother Dale’s decline, which ended in his being fired from the board of the community college he founded. Chip and Dale’s mom, Christine, in a consistently great performance by Louie Anderson, also emerged as a major character, so much so I’d argue she was the season’s real protagonist.
That season ended with all three characters’ fates aligning in such a way to set us up for a new dynamic in which Christine, Chip, and Dale are the new proprietors of the town rodeo. This premiere eases us into this new situation, though a bit too slowly. I loved that season two stuck with Chip on the road for a few episodes, rather than quickly resetting to the status quo (and then that status quo being unfamiliar as well). “Wild Horses” is doing something similar, I suppose, showing us the opening hurdles of getting the Baskets Family Rodeo up and running, but the difference here is, well, nothing all that much happens.
This makes sense for Baskets, which is frequently about small victories and failures. It therefore works, for the setting and the vibe of the show, that all the family’s fretting and overpreparing for a TV appearance ends up being for nothing; it’s just a daytime local news fluff piece after all. It’s a sweet, simple ending, but it also has the effect of making the preceding events feel completely inconsequential, like the show just treaded water for twenty minutes.
That’s a simplification, however. Continuing the trend from season two, Christine is very much the protagonist of this episode. Her storyline is an incredibly simple one about her getting back into sewing, which she had previously given up in response to her ex-husband’s disapproval of it (her new boyfriend Ken’s approval of literally everything is a charming and funny contrast). The conclusion is subtly brilliant as it’s a simultaneous failure and success. While Christine fails in sewing a new dress for her TV appearance, she goes on TV wearing her wedding dress, which she sewed herself years ago, a dress her husband hated, the one that stopped her sewing in the first place. Much of Baskets has become about Christine steadily improving herself and her storyline in this episode contributes to that theme nicely.
Chip and Dale fare less well. Dale’s storyline especially is pretty throwaway. He doesn’t seem to grow or change much. He just gets suckered into buying some wild horses and then spends the rest of the episode trying and failing to deal with his mistake. Chip’s plot is a bit better, but his character growth is so subtle it took me two viewings to realize it’s just about him reluctantly getting used to being involved in the business side of the rodeo. His plot “ends” at the moment he answers the phone in a professional manner, after which point his story unfortunately just gets hijacked by Dale’s goofy horse tranquilizer fiasco.
As an aside, I don’t want to discount how continually amazing it is—from a performance as well as an editing standpoint—that Zach Galifianakis is playing two wildly different twin characters as the series surprisingly continues to up the number of scenes featuring the two of them interacting. Just thinking about the logistics of shooting this stuff hurts my head.
There are some great jokes in this episode. Chip transferring a call to Christine by picking the entire desk phone up and bringing it into her office is one of the best. But I got the most laughs from Martha and Christine’s interactions (“I’m gonna hold off on marriage until I find out what this polyamorous stuff is about.”) Martha continues to be my favorite character, but she’s only in one scene here, which I consider borderline criminal.
The deft comedy/drama balance Baskets has pulled off up to this point is still on display in “Wild Horses,” but the plot feels slow and sparse. Here’s hoping things pick up in the next episode. And that we get more Martha.