[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for the “Baskets” Season 2 finale, Episode 10, “Circus.”]
After a year that saw the Baskets family driven apart, Season 2 wrapped by bringing them all together — in an unexpectedly endearing manner. Christine (Louie Anderson), who literally skipped town a few episodes prior and tried out a new family in “Denver” (Episode 7), made the bold choice to go into business with her boys instead of being taken care of by Ken (Alex Morris). He offered. She said no. And now they’re “building an empire” — a circus empire.
For as much as we loved Dale and Chip’s journeys in Season 2, which saw an increased focus on Chip being rewarded for hard work and Dale being punished for immature behavior, this finale’s focus on Christine was more than fitting. Louie Anderson earned an Emmy for his performance in Season 1, and, if we’re comparing the two for such purposes, this year’s turn was even better. He could have more gold in his future.
First off, it was great to see her finally empathize with Chip’s dream. In the past, she’s pushed her less successful son toward other professions, but after seeing him perform — and then witness him getting fired — she finally came around. She’s putting all her new money on him, too, getting the family business she thought she wanted with Ken. And the Ken story is pretty intriguing on its own. It was Christine’s mother who really pushed her toward a man, and while Chip’s mom was honestly intrigued by the romance, it was the family aspect she wanted most in the end. By the end of the season, it felt like we had a far better understanding of Christine than ever before.
But lest we forget, Galifianakis isn’t exactly sliced beef over here. (I don’t know if Arby’s paid for all the product placement in Season 2, but it fit the chain’s cult sub-brand perfectly.) Buoyed by Jonathan Krisel’s carefully layered scripts, the actor better defined each of his roles this year, taking both Chip and Dale to extreme emotional states and pulling them back from the brink of caricature. Each felt more authentic, and I often found myself forgetting it was the same man playing each twin — a mark of two sterling performances, as a slip in one can affect perception of the other.
As the judge who sentenced him to probation hoped, Chip may very well have been scared straight early in the season by the death of his hobo friend. His mother’s promise to give him a job at the Baskets’ Arby’s franchise — as the guy who will “add the toppings” — certainly didn’t sit well with him either, but his bottom hit earlier than that. Chip came out of a dark place in Season 1 (losing Penelope, his true love, as well as the rodeo) and it only got darker when he tried surviving as a vagabond. Most of Season 2 focused on him rising from the ashes, and Galifianakis found an authentic determination in the character’s subtle shift from punchline to punching back.
Meanwhile, Dale went in the opposite direction. Though he’d never admit it (even to himself), Dale was in free fall most of the season, and Galifianakis found brief, telling moments to expose the tender bruises of a character full of false confidence. Dale’s expression was unforgettable in “Fight” (Episode 5), when Chip mentioned sleeping with his ex-wife. Sure, his jealous rage ripped out Christine’s toilet (that Chip replaced), but it was the look he gave his brother at the mere implication of infidelity that showed how deep Dale’s pain ran.
How Galifianakis, producer Louis C.K., and Krisel brought all these characters, plots, and emotional arcs together in the end is what makes Season 2 tower above its quirky but off-kilter predecessor. Without losing any of its unique surprises, this year’s storytelling felt more self-assured. It was particularly plotted — Grandma’s death at the end of “Denver” is an all-timer for black comic shocks — and the well-honed dialogue hit home even harder.
“Well, French clowning is highly regarded… outside the United States,” Chip told his new manager at the beginning of “Circus.” Not only did Galifianakis nail the comedic beat and confident but knowing inflection of a man whose clowning experience has led him to Bakersfield, CA, but the statement nicely foreshadowed what’s to come in Season 3. The Baskets family is about to find out if clowning is a sustainable business, and having the whole family invested in what used to be Chip’s solo quest makes the anticipation all the more electric. Bring on the empire.