Can a rodeo clown have an epiphany? That’s the question it feels like “Baskets” is proposing in its fourth outing. Professional clown Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis) has just finished a successful season with the Bakersfield rodeo, which is owned by his mother Christine (Louie Anderson). The business has paid off for them financially, but also by bringing together the family — even Chip’s egotistical twin brother Dale (also Galifianakis), who handled the finances, is back in the Baskets’ loving basket. So now what?
In the three seasons before this, Chip has been through the lowest lows. His clowning wasn’t respected, his French wife used him for a green card, he witnessed a friend’s sudden death, and he finally faced the truth he’d been repressing: that his father took his own life. Throughout it all, the show has maintained a darkly comedic and bittersweet tone as Chip struggled just to maintain some semblance of existence. In its fourth season, however, “Baskets” seems on the precipice of change in which Chip isn’t merely existing; he’s coming into his own and taking charge of his destiny. And because of this rosier look to the future, it feels like “Baskets” is starting to wrap things up.
The biggest clue of what’s in store can be found in the composition of this season’s poster: Chip Baskets in clown makeup and a business suit looming large alongside the image of a bullet train. Much like Elon Musk’s hyperloop, the bullet train in “Baskets” promises to link key California cities with high-speed transportation. It also does not exist yet, but that’s what makes it so important. The bullet train represents the future and Bakersfield’s hopes and dreams. Chip hitches his fate to the proposed bullet train tangentially, and this puts him on a path to self-reflection and self-improvement.
The series’ trajectory can be traced in Chip’s clown ambitions. First was the unattainable and unrealistic French clown dream, which he was frankly not suited for at all. Then came the street/hobo clown life, which has a certain romantic integrity to it but isn’t very lucrative. While rodeo clowning is popular, that still didn’t connect with Chip, who was last seen trying out a new clown persona: Dill Pickles.
This season, Chip is still pursuing his love of clowning but trying to marry it with business sense. The suit shows how serious he is about the future, and time spent with a baby puts his life into context. This is a clown transformed, and Galifianakis once again delivers such an under-appreciated performance first as an intensely befuddled Chip and later as the angrily befuddled Dale.
Anderson continues to imbue his Emmy-winning portrayal of Mama Baskets with warmth and an uncanny understanding of this sentimental and joyful character. It’s no wonder that she’s found the most happiness since she came to the first epiphany about her late husband and is now in a loving relationship with carpet king Ken (Alex Morris). Christine features in some of the most beautiful scenes on “Baskets,” and this season, scenes involving cats and refrigerator magnets are just the humble means to allow her to shine.
With this example, the happiness and contentment appear to be within reach of the others, even though it may be a rough road to get there. The shadows that had always underscored the laughs in the past are more out in the open now. Even the score by Joshua Moshier is lighthearted, energetic, and uplifting.
Will “Baskets” end after this season? So far, FX hasn’t mentioned any cancellation or renewal news, but the show certainly feels like it’s making the next logical step to the Baskets family evolution. The tension is lessened. The characters appear to have become unstuck. The show is as funny and heartfelt as ever, but appears to have hopped onto the bullet train of hope along with Chip. This sad clown may find happiness after all.
“Baskets” premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Watch the trailer for Season 4 below: