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TV review: Galifianakis is terrific in grim comedy ‘Baskets’

Zach Galifianakis as Baskets the clown in “Baskets.”
Zach Galifianakis as Baskets the clown in “Baskets.”

Here at Warm TV, we take special interest in most things involving Zach Galifianakis – he’s a North Carolina native who attended N.C. State, and he’s the nephew of well-known Nick Galifianakis of Durham. Naturally, we’ve eagerly awaited his new FX comedy “Baskets,” which he co-created with Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel.

Galifianakis plays Chip Baskets, a struggling 40-something whose one passion is to be a clown. He attends French Clown School, but since he can’t speak French, he doesn’t get far. He returns home to California where the only clown work he can get is at a rodeo – and they don’t exactly take his “art” seriously there. Worse, that job is about the best part of his bleak life. Chip is married to an awful French woman who only wants him for the green card and whatever money she can squeeze from him, and won’t even let him live with her; his mother, played so brilliantly by Louie Anderson (that’s right. Louie Anderson), prefers his successful twin brother Dale (also played by Galifianakis), who runs a trade school. (Actually, Mom Baskets really prefers a set of glamorous adopted twins, who we only see in photos – at least through the first several episodes.)

“Baskets” is a comedy but it’s pretty grim. Think “Louie.” Think “Girls.” Think sad situations – drama, really – with an undercurrent of cringe-worthy humor. Just don’t think it’s going to be laugh after laugh, or anything at all like Galifianakis’ turns in the “Hangover” movies.

If you know what to expect going in, it’s very entertaining, due in large part to the great performances. Galifianakis sells the sad clown (and the petty brother, who is like a mean version of his Marty Huggins character from “The Campaign”) and Anderson is perfect as his depressed (and kind of terrible) mother.

But making the show just as worth watching is Martha Kelly. Kelly plays Costco insurance agent Martha, another sad sack. But unlike Chip, Martha is a nice person – a good person who tries time after time to help Chip, even though he’s nothing but awful to her. Often, Martha is the only likeable character on the show. But as angry and beaten down as Chip is, he has tiny little moments of redemption that make you pull for him.

“Baskets” may be a dreary ride, but it’s worth it.

▪ “Baskets” airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on FX.

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