Whatever ambivalence I have towards Baskets (which I reviewed back in January) on the whole, I could not be more sure of my love for Louie Anderson’s role in it. The stand-up comic and actor plays Christine Baskets, mother to Chip (and Dale) Baskets, both played by Zach Galifinakis. Anderson is, of course, in drag, but somehow it never feels like he is. Instead, he instantly morphs into a 60-something year-old mother in Bakersfield, CA, with grown sons and an addiction to Costco.
Anderson playing Christine feels very British in its execution, particularly in a kind of Monty Python-style. Anderson isn’t playing a parody of a woman, and doesn’t make his voice higher to try and sound more like one. Instead, he comes across just both as a tough broad and a put-upon kind of mother. He fully and perfectly embodies the role in a way that, honestly, feels somehow more real than if it was a female actress as Christine.
Anderson’s role in the series has increased week by week, making a memorable turn in “Easter in Bakersfield,” which took the first steps in really establishing Christine as a dynamic character. That was only augmented in “Uncle Dad,” where Christine takes Chip’s wife on a tour of the city in order to slyly extract personal information from her in order to send her back to France and away from her son.
In “DJ Twins” (which aired last week), there are a few exceptional scenes where Anderson just nails the character’s tone so perfectly. First, there’s the scene where Christine is preparing for the party she’s throwing for her adopted twins. She applies makeup, adjusts her necklaces, and puckers up at the mirror. It’s so effortless and on-point it’s mesmerizing. Later, Anderson steals the scene at the dinner table when — after being disappointed at her sons leaving so suddenly — Christine flops into her seat, and talks about a dream she had where her husband wouldn’t smile. It’s a really incredible moment on so many levels, but what really sells it is that you can see the sundry layers to Christine in that moment, and the myriad of emotions that flash across her face.
But the tour de resistance comes when Christine talks about how robust the Dasani (or “de-santi”) water is that her sons brought her. In a clip that ran after the final credits, Christine details how great the water is even further, asking Martha a question and then cutting her off immediately, in order to talk more about how beautiful the plastic bottle is. “I might hang some of these in the window,” she says at the end. It’s every mother who has blindly praised a child’s offerings, no matter how meager, finding anything and everything positive to say about it. Christine is shrewd (as we’ve seen in prior episodes), and she’s also empathetic (to Chip’s plight as a clown). But when it comes to her adopted twins, she’s also utterly in her own world, and largely in denial.
The best example of that is when, in “Easter in Bakersfield,” Christine’s mother began talking about her high school weight gain and everything they tried to do to make her skinny again, Christine finally leaves the table, in search of more sweets. More than any other character in the series, Christine is the most deeply layered, and the person who feels like she has the most to lose from having the world she’s built for herself interrupted by reality. Chip recognizes this, which is why he sacrificed his own big night to convince his brothers that they needed to spend time with her. Chip many not be Christine’s favorite son, but she watches out for him and supports him. And in return, when he saw her alone eating that batch of whipped cream while in bed and staring blankly at the TV, he knew he needed to do something.
But all of this comes together so well because of Anderson. At first glance, his role as Christine seems like a joke, but it’s not. It’s not a one-off pilot gag or something to snicker at. It’s just a really excellent portrayal of a complicated character. Baskets’ storytelling on the whole is uneven, and its humor is extremely hit or miss, but Christine’s excellence is never in doubt. There’s never anything a Gatorade and a trip to Costco can’t fix.
Baskets airs Thursday nights on FX, and for an excellent in-depth piece on Anderson and his role in the show, check out his recent appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air.