Review by Andrew Phillips

Baskets 2016

I have spent a large part of this first season acclimatizing to the surreal tragi-comedy that is 'Baskets'.

And it has actually taken a fair degree of effort, so if you don't like the first episode or two, hang in there. Mixing cringey awkwardness and slapstick with heart-churning pathos is a delicate art. It’s like inventing a new food combination that sounds terrible, but is actually quite good. (For example, cold Italian meatballs and melted dark chocolate. No, seriously. Try it sometime.)

’Baskets’ is like few other shows on television, in that it requires a level of emotional maturity to be able to parse the humour they’re going for. Only those who have drank deeply from the fountain of despair and exclusion will resonate with Martha Brooks. Only someone who has danced with the devil known as denial will appreciate Christine Baskets. And only people who have become self-aware and honest enough to admit getting caught up in their own pretensions will really enjoy Chip.

In their own way, every character here is a misfit, making their own unusual way through the rugged wilderness of normalcy. There is a reason that Chip is more comfortable being charged by bulls at a rodeo than working the register at an Arby’s. And, make no mistake, this can’t be a show about Chip or anyone else eventually becoming happy or successful, because even success wouldn’t make these characters feel less of an outsider. When Martha apologizes for being repeatedly being bitten by a snake, she is expressing her secret shame in being different, or of even drawing attention to herself. When Chip organizes a tarp-picnic on a downtown traffic island with a ridiculous six-foot-long loaf of bread, he’s desperately trying to recapture a moment when he felt like a normal person. That lame Parisian picnic with Penelope was actually the high water mark of Chip's life. What could be more funny, or more desperately sad? One could argue that the character of Penelope actually represents inclusion and normalcy for Chip, since he met her while running with a group of Parisian clowns and idiots that welcomed him as one of their own.

As well, I think the main reason Martha gravitates to Chip is because she recognizes that he is also an outsider. Perhaps no single line from the show sums up the heartbreak of being an oddball better than Baskets’ advice to his niece: “If you’re a terrible dancer, then dance badly on purpose, so no matter what terrible thing happens in your life, it doesn’t matter, because you’re in on the joke.”

It was a tough binge-watch, and I didn't necessarily like where the show went in the first season finale, but it was worth the effort, and I'll definitely be tuned in for season two.

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