Television never lets you forget that hardship is always inconvenient. Car accidents, murders, family deaths—these almost always happen at the worst times on TV shows because it raises the dramatic stakes of the situation. There are unexpressed feelings, proverbial balls to juggle, and characters we know and love thrown into a state of panic. Sudden disasters are often a convenient way to bring a cast together to share in a collective crisis and facilitate established conflicts to bubble up to the surface; when shows handle this well, it can be ripe for good television, but when they don’t, it can be a maudlin simulacrum of real life trauma.
Baskets luckily stays on the former side of the divide with Christine Baskets suddenly falling into diabetic coma after trying to give up sugar, but it’s the way that Galifianakis separates Chip and Dale from the immediate proceedings that makes “Sugar Pie” a dynamic episode. Since Chip and Dale can’t exactly play off of each other in the same frame for too long because Galifianakis plays both characters, credited writer Jonathan Krisel captures how both of them deal with the news while in the midst of their own specific predicaments. Chip misses his chance to tell off his mother for sending Penelope back to France, and Dale hyperactively deals with the news while chaperoning for his daughter Sarah’s volleyball tournament. It’s a great showcase for Galifianakis’ acting as he effectively plays two personalities he has honed over the course of his career—quiet bitterness and obnoxious rage.
Dale has to be one of the more underdeveloped characters on Baskets simply because he functions as a foil for Chip. He’s the successful, stable brother that his mother depends on, while Chip needs more support and nurturing. Though Baskets has depicted Dale’s resentment towards his brother (and the adopted twins) for hogging up the family attention, it has never really delved into it until “Sugar Pie.” On the phone with Chip, Dale crudely tells Chip not to call an ambulance for their mother because of how much the fee will cost and then later chastises him for bringing her to the hospital in the first place. But when Chip tells him that Christine is in a coma, Dale acts out more than usual, and he’s already the most boorish person at his daughter’s volleyball tournament. At their second game of the tournament, he cheats for his daughter’s team, acts like it didn’t happen, and then gets ejected from the game by the referee. When one of Sarah’s teammates gleefully tapes Dale’s outburst on her phone, Sarah politely tells her to stop. For once, Dale has a reason why he’s acting out and taking over the entire room.
On that note, Krisel gives Dale a couple crucial moments to elicit sympathy from the audience, and while they’re programmatically deployed, they still mostly work in the episode’s favor. There’s the brief voiceover flashback in his head from his mother about looking after Chip right before a winning point, but my favorite is the quick shot of his phone as he’s reading causes of a diabetic coma. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot, but it’s crucial to convey Dale’s behavior as immediately recognizable. (Who hasn’t let some terrible news cloud your attention while something else is happening right in front of you?) It also facilitates his final blow-up at the game and his sweet, yet silly gesture of brining a Toblerone bar to the hospital quite nicely.
Then there’s Chip who reluctantly takes control of the situation while he stews in a mixture of resentment and grief. Unlike Dale’s loud outbursts, Krisel captures Chip’s feelings with small, telling gestures. It’s in the look of defeat as he futilely tries to push his mother out of the kitchen with his feet; the awkward, yet tender way he hugs his mom while she’s lying in the hospital bed; the decorative flair he brings to the room, even if it’s just balloons and flowers. Though he certainly feels anger towards his mother, not helped by the divorce papers he receives by an enthusiastic deliveryman, he certainly feels a great deal of sympathy for her situation, especially considering their fraught, tense relationship. (He only leaves her side to go smoke a cigarette and call Martha to bring pictures and clothes from her house.)
The most devastating and evocative scene in “Sugar Pie” is when Chip sings “O Little Town of Bakersfield,” to a mother who can’t hear him. Though the series never says it explicitly, it’s likely a song Christine used to sing to her sons when they were little. A carol modified for the small circumstances of their lives, it’s a short but sweet song that captures all the conflicted feelings Chip has for his mother, a woman who gave everything and a little more to her children often at the expense of her own well-being. It’s a moment of grace in a series that mostly thrives on coarse alienation: For once, Chip is doing his best to take care of his mother in her time of need, and he’s actually pretty good at it. While he may have to deal with future hardship on his own, including the knowledge that his father killed himself instead of “falling off a bridge,” Chip can rest easy knowing he succeeded at one thing in his life.
- Whenever Baskets employs slapstick comedy, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a laugh. This week: Chip desperately trying to reach her mother’s phone underneath her comatose body.
- The other hilarious bit in this episode is the manic deliveryman played by Joshua E. Adams. Thankfully Krisel never explains why he’s so frantic and excited and broke, but his presence is hilarious and I’d happily watch him and Eddie clown around in the background of future episodes.
- Cody and Logan show up over Skype. They’re opening up for the Chemical Brothers in Halifax.
- A great detail: Chip mistaking the Skype ringtone for a noise from a hospital machine.
- “Mom, that’s a weird place for a nap.”
- “My brother would know better.” “He older?” “Yes, he’s older by a day and a half.”
- “I have to let you know: I cannot chip in any money for gas.”
- “I’m gonna go. Great balloons. Fantastic balloons.”
- “That’s the lamest dance party I’ve ever seen.”
- “There’s a lady on the girl’s team!”
- “Oh, this is one of those apps that will turn anything into anything! This is bullshit!”