Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for the third season of “Baskets,” which feels even more sure-footed in its playful pathos than ever before. For its first act, the Baskets family empire will put on a circus-rodeo, which matriarch Christine (Louie Anderson) purchased, to be run by son Dale (Zach Galifianakis) with his twin Chip (also Galifianakis) as the star clown. The series went to some dark places to reach this point, and putting on the show will be the next step in the evolution of this damaged yet lovably tenacious family.
The first episode back in particular feels like the natural extension of Season 2’s themes, especially with Christine. Her boyfriend Ken (Alex Morris) is still in the picture via FaceTime and as supportive as ever, and her optimism and confidence are at an all-time high. But true to form, there are shadows lurking beneath the laughs that are so deliriously good and well-crafted in their understated goofiness. It’s one such line that Anderson delivers with such distressing nonchalance that reveals the show’s complexity. The past still exists, but the rodeo is how Christine is finding ways to deal with it.
The twins are also continuing their growth. While Chip emerged from the depths last season, he’s now found himself faced with his dream and a mother who appreciates his unique skills for the first time. That’s enough to thrust any French-trained clown into an existential crisis, and in the first two episodes, Chip is still unsure of what his role in this rodeo is despite being the inspiration for the venture.
In contrast, his brother Dale no longer has the veneer of success to hide his delayed growth behind. Now that it’s been stripped away, his bravado (and repetitive rhetoric) is on display even more, which is to say that the fragility is very near the surface. A botched showdown with the pre-existing rodeo staff is likely the beginning of many more attempts to exercise the acumen expected of a business-minded businessman who means business.
Deadpan scene-stealer Martha (Martha Kelly) is somehow always at the ready to help, despite acquiring yet another cast on her arm, but we also learn more about her life sans the Baskets family influence. The second episode is structured as more of an episodic adventure in which Chip and Martha take a rodeo-related road trip, during which she explains what she’s been doing with her life.
While this feels tonally different from the main story, “Baskets” has been able to spin disparate emotional and narrative threads skillfully (see: last season’s hobo adventure journey to that sublime finale). We’ve also missed the Chip and Martha dynamic, which may evolve this season as well, now that she appears to have found her voice and agency.
Performances are as strong as ever, if not better. While Anderson never fails to stir the heart, Galifianakis continues to stun with his nuanced take on the two brothers. At this point, we’re willing to believe he had cloned himself in order to portray both Chip and Dale with such seamless abandon. We no longer need to look for clues in dress and hairstyle to know which twin is speaking because Galifianakis defines their separate spirits in totality.
Given the first two episodes for review, it’s still too early to tell where this season is going, but the Baskets are heading presumably to great success or great failure. At this point it doesn’t matter which is the result, but how they get through it together as a family. Already we’ve seen the most minor of triumphs represent a groundbreakingly important turn for Christine. As the physical pieces of the rodeo come together, so do the pieces of their psyche.
Whether it’s an Arby’s or a rodeo, we’re invested in this family enterprise of hilarity and healing. Cue the calliope music.
“Baskets” airs its Season 3 premiere on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.