‘Baskets’ Season 3 Kicks off With a Lot of Horsing Around

Baskets returns for a third season with its main characters facing the hardships of running their own business. In the show’s slapstick tradition, the business in question is a rodeo. In this economy you don’t really have many options and if you have the chance of owning your own rodeo with your sons as caretakers and head clown, then maybe it’s worth a try. The season opener is a hilarious romp, using absurd situations to make its cast shine. If the last season was defined by the Baskets family finding themselves in whacky, individual situations, this new season brings them together to chase their destiny amid wild horses and half-stitched dresses.

As the season opens, Christine Baskets (Louie Anderson) has finalized the purchase of a rodeo (“Ro-De-Owner” reads her official title). Her twin sons, Chip and Dale (Zach Galifianakis) are of course put in charge of the whole enterprise officially named the Baskets Family Rodeo. Dale supervises the acquirement and training of horses while Chip is the “Head Clown.” His hopes already put on hold to become a great clown, Chip now struggles to hire extra clowns for the upcoming rodeo shows, which might happen when he masters a few basic office procedures such as transferring calls through the office phone. Meanwhile Christine is full of excitement because the local news channel wants to interview her about the new venture. But just as the three prepare let the media into the rodeo, they discover that their horses are actually wild and dangerous. All this time they’ve been tranquilized and now the drugs have worn off. While desperately seeking a dress for the interview, Christine orders the brothers to figure how to calm down the horses before the news van arrives.

What has always made “Baskets” work is its cast. This is humor that requires a particular range and delivery. Louie Anderson is the absolute stand out in the season premiere, appropriately titled “Wild Horses.” Christine is a dreamer who can’t tell when she’s about to step into one of life’s potholes. Unable to find a proper dress, she decides to make one herself with the aid of a neighbor (“You’re like Cinderella and I’m one of those helper rats”). Anderson plays the role with such likeability that the character nearly overshadows Galifianakis’s double duties as the Baskets brothers. We cheer for Christine because she’s one of those aloof dreamers with good intentions, even as her social circle looks incredulously at her venture (“It’s not a business, it’s a gesture”). The whole storyline involving the making of her dress is almost endearing, just because she’s really trying. When the dress predictably falls apart Christine doesn’t surrender, when she walks into a store and grabs what she knows works for her we may not agree, but we admire the drive.

The writing and directing by Jonathan Krisel is lighthearted, but with a tinge of dark humor. He doesn’t want us to cringe or feel pity, but to feel at home with these characters and root for their boldly farcical schemes. Some of the subplots in the premiere are quite simply funny, without the need of going over the top. When the show does go for big moments they are effective slapstick like a moment where a wild horse suddenly goes haywire and tears at Dale’s shirt. Later there’s a brilliantly quirky attempt by Dale to find horse tranquilizers. Krisel makes fun of the usual drug dealer meeting with a bar scene that is pure hilarity. The way the TV news interview near the end develops is also just classic comedy well-executed by a skillful cast.

One cannot write about “Baskets” without emphasizing Galifianakis, who in this show demonstrates he is a comic actor of natural humor. The obviously impressive aspect of his task here is convincingly bringing to life two different individuals, most of the time interacting within one scene. But the banter Galifiankis pulls off between Dale and Chip always has a great rhythm, even when the dialogue is easy farce (“Don’t poo poo it if you can’t doo doo it”).

If “Baskets” continues to successfully shift its characters to new scenarios and storylines then it might just have a long run. The show begins its third season well enough to where we’re interested to see how this rodeo spectacle ends.

Baskets” Season 3 premieres Jan. 23 at 10 p.m. ET and airs Tuesdays on FX.