For his whole life, Chip has been running away. He ran away from the truth about his father’s suicide into the arms of clowning. He ran away from Bakersfield, his mother, and the drudgery of suburban life to Paris in order to master craft, but instead all he got was a loveless green card marriage. When he returned home, he’s been running away from his family’s polite indifference or, in the case of Dale, outright disdain for his passion by becoming a rodeo clown. But mostly, he’s been running away from reality his entire life because it’s much too painful to look squarely in the eye. Maybe it’s because his fate clearly doesn’t lie amongst the stars but rather behind the counter of an Arby’s.
So it’s only fitting that the last scene of “Family Portrait” features Chip running alongside a train heading over the bridge where his father killed himself and then jumping onto it. He doesn’t know where it’s going, but it’s going somewhere away from the menial Hell into which his life has descended.
But what leads Chip to this point? In short, reality finally caught up to him. First, Penelope tells him over the phone to forget about her, that she was just a fantasy for him and vice versa, and it doesn’t matter if his mother interferes in their relationship or not. Then, Martha and Dale begin an affair causing Dale to get kicked out his house and move back in with his mother (“It’s my time to be a twerp,” he smugly tells Chip.) On top of all that, Chip has to get a day job at Arby’s to pay for his mother’s nurse to help her adjust to the diabetes. Well, initially, at least until Cody and Logan come through with their own nurse, and then it just becomes Chip’s job. He’s become what his mother has always wanted for him: A fast food employee soon to have a savings account.
But it’s in that Arby’s where Chip finally loses it as he hears the voices of his life ring through his head in what has to be the broad, most tragic scene involving flying meat slices. Right after Dale announces his intentions to move back home, Chip has to make a Combo #3 for a customer and causes a complete mess in the kitchen by trying to pour hot cheese on a sandwich, slice meat, and dispense ice cream all at the same time. It’s a slightly unsubtle, but nevertheless apt metaphor for Chip’s own personal failings: He’s someone who tries to do much even when he’s not doing much at all. It’s a sad reality that some people don’t get anywhere no matter how hard they try because life can be cruel and unfair. Chip doesn’t quite fall into that category, but he’s not far off either. He exists in a world that fundamentally doesn’t understand him, essentially trapping him in state of paralysis, stuck between the ordinary, unremarkable life of his family and the dreams he harbors so dearly.
“Family Portrait” is a little overstuffed, partially because it tries to service the large supporting cast by bringing everyone back into the frame, and it sometimes stretches believability even for a show like Baskets, especially with Martha and Dale’s sudden affair, but it’s so thematically resonant that these minor flaws are easy to ignore. Baskets exists in the gap between fantasy and reality, between our rose-colored perception of ourselves and our actual selves. It’s a series filled with flights of fancy that always try to rise above the dirt where they reside. “Family Portrait” kicks Chip to the ground even more so than the rest of the series, but Baskets also argues that this might be the kick Chip needs. Chip has too long resided in his own headspace disconnected from the world around him and supported for too long by a loving, caring mother. Galifianakis never argues that being an Arby’s employee or working at Costco or operating a community college is remotely a bad thing; it’s just normal. But Chip doesn’t want to be normal. He wants to be special even when the world keeps telling him he’s not.
It’s when he finds out that the rodeo has been shut down that sends him packing despite the understanding job and a somewhat stable home life. If he’s not a professional clown even part-time, then what is he? Well, still a clown, but just another one of many who walk amongst us sans makeup. He’s just another guy who had a dream squashed by circumstance, bad timing, and not enough talent. He’d be stuck in Bakersfield going nowhere for the rest of his life. So what does he do? He boards the first train he sees, sitting alongside some apathetic hobo, and hoping to God that there’s a better life somewhere away from all this.
Or maybe not. Maybe instead it’s just going in a circle. Maybe it’ll just bring him to back to the place where the whole damn thing started. But at least he’s trying.
- Funniest scene in the episode has to be the family scrambling to give Christine her insulin, especially Dale yelling at his daughter, “Watch that! You might get a diabete!”
- What’s Eddie going to do now that the rodeo has been shut down because the humane society has sent a cease and desist letter? “Reckon I’ll ride out West, hold me up a train, get my ass all shot up, die in a creek somewhere.” In other words, Eddie is the best.
- The former Juggalo from “Trainee” returns as the best, most compassionate Arby’s employee. He embraces Chip as a part of the Arby’s family immediately, even if Chip think his actual name is “Arby.”
- Chip driving straight into orange crates after Martha tells him she had sex with Dale was a nice touch.
- The three things Christine wants to do after waking up from a coma: 1. Look through a telescope; 2. Go down to Pixar and watch them make one of their movies; 3. Have some shark fin soup before all the sharks are gone.
- “Who walks in California? I love Chip, but he can be a dingleberry.”
- “I had to get a day job to pay a gentlemen to help my mom take a dump.”
- “This is bullshit!” “No, this is combo number 3”
- Thanks to all of you who stuck with the show and read these reviews. This was a true oddball experiment that ended up winning me over in spades. Thrilled it received a second season. See y’all next year.
- One last thing: Garry Shandling sadly died today at the age of 66. He was one of the most influential comedians who ever lived, and his The Larry Sanders Show opened the doors for all of modern comedy, including Baskets. Watch a clip from the series in his honor below, and check it out in full if you haven’t already.