‘Baskets’ Season 3 Resolves Some Family Issues in Quirky Finale

Humor is the natural heir of sadness, as any decent comedian will tell you. Season 3 of “Baskets has been an assortment of wild scenarios, funny jokes and glorious absurdity. But for whatever reason its showrunners have decided to end the season on a rather melancholy note. The “New Year’s Eve” episode is a finale where love is lost, marriage proposals are blocked and a game of Hungry Hippos spirals into brutal revelations. But this sort of wording might not be doing the episode any justice, because it is still very funny. The saga of the Basket brothers and their aloof mother enters even more uncharted territory by the end credits. This was inevitable considering the entire season has hurtled forward with one wild development after another.

The gang head for a cabin in the woods to celebrate New Year’s Eve. There is some lingering tension revolving around a snap decision by Dale Basket (Zach Galifianakis) to marry a blonde named Shannon. Shannon has a serious Red Bull addiction, something that catches the attention of matriarch Christine (Louie Anderson), who fakes openness to get to know her son’s fiancé. Chip (Galifianakis) is a bystander to all this while Christine’s own boyfriend, Ken (Alex Morris), is planning to make his own marriage proposal. It all culminates in a game of Hungry Hippos when secrets are suddenly tossed out. Shannon learns Dale isn’t the actual owner of the Baskets’ rodeo, and when the word “gold digger” is thrown around Shannon leaves in a rage. Dale finds himself reduced to wandering in the bleak snow.

Season Three of “Baskets” has been a wonderfully quirky landscape of pure family dysfunction. In the opening of the season the Basket brothers and Christine had returned to the rode-operating business, opening in a new spot but facing some major obstacles. Episodes balanced between the whacky antics of the brothers and the more plausible hassles of running a business. In one episode Chip struggles with hiring new rodeo clowns, in another episode Christine tries to throw a gala event to impress her snotty, unpleasant friends but ends up creating friction between her and the brothers. “Baskets” taps into the humor of stress and frustration. Galifianakis pulls it off brilliantly by playing both Chip and Dale, breaking into moments of great slapstick or volcanic rage. The Baskets are the very definition of the sort of people you would term “a mess.” Even filming a commercial for the rodeo turns into a chaotic clash as Ken slaps Dale for disrespecting Christine. In a way “Baskets” mirrors in an exaggerated way the way a lot of relationships in life actually function. We fight, we make peace. We fight again and continue making peace when it comes to some friendships or even family members. Although this is a comedy, there have been some moments that are truly touching, as in an episode where Ken and Christine almost break up over reasons that can seem very simple but feel ever so true to life.

The season finale is a fitting culmination of the tone and storylines that have been building up since the season premiere. The gang find themselves secluded in a cabin where there is no choice but to confront their differences and grievances head on. Dale is exposed as a liar to his fiancé, and Ken has to try and win the brothers’ blessings in order to propose to Christine. As is typical in this show the humor is either slapstick or a sharp nudge to the ribs. When the group drives up to the cabin Christine comments just how cosmopolitan the wasteland of Bakersfield is by comparison. Ken’s grown daughters also tag along and become innocent bystanders to the family’s craziness. The Hungry Hippos scene is wonderfully acidic humor as Shannon cannot believe her beloved is not an actual rodeo owner. He lets out the final line, “you’re talking like a gold digger!”

What sets “New Year’s Eve” apart from a lot of the season however, is its melancholic tone. Some scenes have some brutally honest heart to hearts. The most effective, and possibly the best scene in the episode is when Chip asks Ken, “Do me a favor. Don’t kill yourself like my first dad did.” This is a reference to Christine’s first husband. This is dark humor walked on a very, very fine tightrope line. The great crescendo is when Dale runs off into the woods, screaming in hilarious agony after Shannon leaves him. “Maybe this family would be better off without me,” he yells. Louie Anderson masterfully plays Christine (as he has done during the entire show) during these moments, bringing out not so much humor as empathy. Anderson’s approach has always been both funny but sympathetic. We laugh at Christine’s humor and follies, but we feel genuine affection for the character as well.

By the end of the episode there is a lighter tone that returns the series to its proper attitude. The final shot is a great, sudden cut just as a crucial action by one of the characters is about to take place. “Baskets” is a family affair worth following into the next round.

Baskets” Season 3 finale aired March 27 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.