The conversation around onscreen representation in Hollywood has been focused on marginalized people of different ethnicities and queer identifications, but class has also come to the forefront recently in the wake of ABC canceling “Roseanne.” In particular, viewers who embraced the sitcom revival starring Roseanne Barr decried the loss of a show that represented a working-class family.
“Roseanne” isn’t the sole example of such a show, however. “Baskets” on FX is another contemporary comedy that features a working-class family and makes an effort to portray everyday slices of life that don’t normally make it to the TV screen. Case in point is having the central Baskets family – mother Christine (Louie Anderson) and her grown twin sons Chip and Dale (Zach Galifianakis) – dine at fast-food chain Arby’s regularly. In fact, the Baskets ended up at Arby’s again with some out-of-town guests in the heartbreaking Season 3 episode, “Thanksgiving.”
At an Emmys FYC event — held at Arby’s, natch — co-creators Zach Galifianakis and Jonathan Krisel, along with co-stars Louie Anderson and Martha Kelly, discussed the past season, the show’s everyday American sensibilities, and what it owes to “Roseanne.” [Editor’s Note: This roundtable interview took place before Barr’s racist tweet had prompted ABC to cancel her show.]
“We had one of our greatest moments at Arby’s, the Thanksgiving [episode],” Anderson told reporters. “I think this is what Jonathan and Zach are doing. All the traditional, silly buttoned-up stuff in sitcoms is not ever happening in ‘Baskets,’ which is beautiful.”
Galifianakis said, “I think also it’s important to have characters on TV that represent people you see walking around. I just don’t see that a lot. I just don’t. Especially in sitcoms, there’s not a fair representation of the world.”
“I think that’s why ‘Roseanne’ is doing so well though,” added Krisel. “‘Roseanne’ was a big inspiration. I loved that show. The new version, I don’t know about, but… [Barr] was on ‘Portlandia’ once, and I worked with her. She’s in her own universe, which is cool.”
“Yeah, but she’s not a real person,” said Galifianakis. “I think it’s more about Roseanne [Barr] than it is about the people. She’s building up that celebrity cred again, to be honest.”
Being real and having an authentic voice is important to Galifianakis, and it comes through in “Baskets.” Although the Baskets family and their story are fictional, their personal struggles with work, trauma, relationships, and identity are relatable and universal.
“We all come from ‘Baskets’ families. It’s a family that’s messy,” he said. “Things on ‘Baskets’ are not fixed by one quirky line. This is not a simple show to do. There’s layers to it.
“In the first season, I just hadn’t seen a show like this that has a weird mix of dramatic elements and then the goofy jokes. I think Krisel, the balance that he finds in that and even the performances of Louie and Martha allow for us to explore these storylines that are a little heavier. Life is drama, jokes, jokes, drama; it’s a mixed bag. So to pull that off, that tone, I give that credit to Jon.”
An Artistic Reawakening
Season 3 marked the start of the Baskets Family Rodeo, a venture that Christine Baskets was able to invest in after coming into some money. Never mind that she had never owned a business before, much less a rodeo, but she made the purchase in order to work with her sons, rodeo clown Chip and former small business owner Dale.
In the episode “Thanksgiving,” however, Chip begins to question his clowning style, which he expresses through his sad clown persona named Renoir. He had previously stuck by this character stubbornly, even when others didn’t respond the way he would have liked. What did they know about art, anyway? When his French clown college buddies drop by for Thanksgiving, however, he realizes that not only is his character a horrible stereotype of French clowns, but that it never really represented who he was. He begins to test out new personas, to find his authentic clown voice.
“For Dale and Chip, I kind of wanted to introduce characters that weren’t that likable… and at the end of this, I wanted them to have some redemption. So I think at least Chip is headed that way to change his life a little bit.”
The episode also serves to connect mother and son. After hanging out with Chip’s clown friends (and smoking their weed), she gets the munchies, and the entire group ends up at Arby’s. It’s a far different, looser, and creative crowd than Christine has encountered before, and that also has an effect on her. She begins to think about what she wants next in life.
“I think there’s a lot of women from Christine’s era that could speak about that, that are locked in a man’s world,” said Galifianakis. “She wasn’t allowed to have all the freedoms. So I think that’s kind of what I see — this artist or whatever that’s inside of her wants to come out.”
“Mothers especially sacrifice and kind of do everything for everyone else,” said Anderson. “There’s an asterisk that they’d like to get to, a ‘What about me?’ at the end of it. That’s the thing I’m so excited about being on this show. I’m not just on a show; there’s a consciousness of the show… When I sat with the writers, there’s a consciousness. Like, what is happening with this family?”
Krisel added, “Also, here’s this artist/weirdo/kid and this mom, who they seem so opposite. She’s church-going… But what if she didn’t have that opportunity [to be creative]? She’s sort of an artist in her own way. It seems too precious, but it was actually like, ‘Let’s explore this lady. These types of ladies are around. They’re magical too.’ It’s not just beautiful models who romp through Paris. These are interesting, poetic lives too. It’s this clunky, weird family that’s eating at Arby’s. You can have a great moment at any place in the world.”
Confidence That Begins With a Bang
Inspired to improve her business skills, Christine attends a women’s business conference in Las Vegas, where she’s inspired by the women she meets there and gains confidence about her role in running the rodeo. With this renewed outlook comes a new haircut: bangs.
“We sent Christine and Martha off to this empowering conference of females in business, and it just seemed like coming back from that, she’s seen all of these other powerful women and wanted to re-identify herself as a businesswoman,” said Krisel.
“The bangs represent this new identity as, ‘I’ve been jostled around in this business world,’ from her brother and her sons, but now, ‘No, I’m legit. I’m this new Christine. I’m not going to be messed with because I went to this conference and I learned some tips and things.’This was our exploration of Christine’s now running things. She doesn’t really know what she’s doing but it’s fun to watch her figure it out.”
Anderson said, “I agree with Jonathan. Christine was like, ‘Hey, I’m getting bangs.’ Maybe she always wanted bangs. That’s how I always think about Christine is maybe she always wanted more.”
The bangs also sparked another personal insight for Anderson. He had already spoken at length about how playing Christine had helped him connect with his late mother, but the haircut this season also highlighted his link to another family member.
“What I loved is how much it really made me look like my sister Lisa,” he said. “There’s an actual picture that’s almost identical. She had an amazing picture where [looking at it], I go, ‘Oh my god, our DNA is so close.’ I couldn’t believe how much I looked like my sister.
“I heard from a few people how much younger I looked. So, you always want to hear that. So I like the bangs,” he continued. “Don’t you think you’ve ever seen a family and … especially if you look at the mother, you go, ‘Is that a guy? Wouldn’t that person make a better guy?’ And in my case, I’m a much — I’m a really pretty woman.”