Entertainment

'Baskets' Co-Creator Jonathan Krisel Explains the Bizarro Comedy's Brilliant Second Season

Following the FX show's shocking season finale, we catch up with Krisel about Costco, 'Lost in Translation,' and the necessity of art.
March 24, 2017, 5:09pm

Throughout its astounding and utterly unique second season, FX's Zach Galfinakis–starring absurdist comedy Baskets has struck notes of tenderness, hilarity, sadness, and self-reflection. Last night's season finale was no different: After spending the entire season jumping train cars, narrowly avoiding jail time, and becoming homeless, the perpetually down-on-his-luck aspiring clown Chip Baskets (Galfinakis) finally found some success with a circus gig—even if it was short lived.

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After coming into an inheritance left by her late mother, Baskets matriarch Christine (Louie Anderson) considered buying an Arby's franchise as a means of establishing a family business. By the episode's end, though, she settled for investing the money in the shuttered rodeo that Chip worked at throughout the first season of Baskets. If that all sounds confusing, ridiculous, and oddly sweet—well, that's Baskets, and since the show was recently picked up for a third season, we're in for plenty more of it.

Earlier this week, we caught up with Baskets co-creator Jonathan Krisel to discuss the show's anti-consumerist streak, capturing Anderson's titanic performance as Christine on screen, and more:

VICE: When I interviewed Louie earlier this year, he said he told the writers' room that he wanted Christine "to twirl." How did you and your team handle that note?
Jonathan Krisel: It's an amazing character that Louie's made—this woman's performance and her inner life. It's so amazing to watch, and you desperately want to write for that kind of a person. You feel for her and the family she was dealt, and all her intentions are very good. Movies and TV aren't usually about that type of woman—someone who gained a lot of weight and had a family, and it didn't turn out that great. But she did get to twirl [in this season]. She got to do her own thing.

What we found is that she's more like a typical protagonist [than Chip]. Our main protagonist is very dark and twisted, and the audience has a hard time understanding what he's going to do next, because he's very self-sabotaging, and he does a lot of weird stuff. But everybody relates to Christine—maybe in their own mom or other moms they've seen. There's so [much art] about misunderstood artists—but what about the misunderstood artist's mother? That's a really interesting character, too.

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"Denver" was a remarkable episode of television. Tell me about bringing that episode to life.
We kept saying, "We're doing our Lost in Translation episode." We wanted to do a poetic episode about this woman going on a foolhardy, romantic, "I don't know what I'm doing, I'm lost in this kind of boring hotel room" [trip]—just a very quiet episode with a lot at stake for her. "Does this guy like me? Does he not like me?" I kept referencing the cinematographer who shot Lost in Translation, Lance Acord, because he does this stuff that's beautiful—and this type of woman never gets a beautiful movie about herself! The shots where Christine is looking out the window and thinking, What is my life?—when you have a beautiful actress, you go, "This is so beautiful and cool." But with Christine, it's a lot darker and crazier, because her inner life has a lot more complicated parts to it.

There's so much annoying shit that people have to do just to get through the day—it's a struggle. You have to think, Do I have my medicine? Do I have my stuff? You're stretched thin out of your comfort zone because you're this big woman, so we wanted to take the romantic indie-movie trope and apply it to a different type of character. There's a little bit of Mike Leigh in there, too—stripped-down, bare, human, emotional stuff.

You worked on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, which always embraced a very strong anti-consumerist streak. There's a lot of anti-consumerism subtext in Baskets as well.
For sure. It's the backdrop that everyone's operating on. I'm not trying to judge Costco—I grew up as a Costco kid, loved going there—but people just have a mentality about it that I wanted to explore a little bit. I wrote a line for Penelope where, when Christine says, "This wine is two for one," Penelope says, "I just want one for one." In New York City, you get your groceries for that night, and you eat that thing—you're not bulking up and saying, "What's the cheapest thing?" It's more about, "What do you want?" That's what you should be getting—not just what's free and what's there. Costco does such a good job—they do have very high-end things—but when you're there, you're like, "Why, this is such a good price. I think I should get it." But what did you actually want when you stepped into the store? Did you want that thing? My wife is always like, "This is such a good deal," and I'm like, "We don't even want that thing." I don't know. I just find funny. People get excited about their cellphone plans, too—they get excited about getting a deal, and Christine is that kind of a person. She gets excited about deals, and she's got a garage full of stuff. Maybe it's an American thing. When you go to Paris, everything is about the experience that you're having—the little coffee that you're having on the corner is the best coffee that you've ever had. It's a city set up for going out and experiencing life. A lot of California cities are just set up as huge parking lots for getting a good deal and going home. There's nothing set up for having a great day.

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There are a lot of brands used in the show—Costco, Arby's, Quiznos, Dasani. Has there been any pushback from the brands in how you portray them?
We had a scene in an Applebee's this season, where Christine is trying to keep her sugar levels down, and Chip is telling her to get all these crazy Applebee's desserts. Applebee's was like, "We love it! Can you mention this dessert, too?" [Laughs] Clearly, we're saying that this is a huge part of the problem with American obesity—but they were so into it that it didn't really matter.

We've had a couple of lines in the script where Costco will say, "Hey, can you not say that?" I say, "Um, no. I think it's funny, and I'm not trying to make fun of you." And they're like, "OK." They're great to us. We had even a joke where Martha says, "I used to work in returns, but I refused to unionize." They were like, "We actually have some issues with the union. Could you not say that?" I was like, "No." Maybe they got mad, but the representatives from Costco came [when we were shooting the] last season, and they were so friendly. We're never trying to come from the place of, "Look at the system of corporations. It's so crazy." That's never the intention.

There's been a trend in recent years with shows about comedians struggling to make it big, and Baskets is a highly absurdist twist on that sub-genre.
What I'm really trying to do is say, "Being an artist [means] you can have these beautiful moments—it's beautiful and it's a life." Art should be a bigger part of daily life because it's very important. It doesn't seem like it's important—you don't need it, and you can survive without it—but it's like a glass of water in a desert of life.

I want to elevate these parking-lot worlds because they have just as much beauty in them. In the writers' room, we refer to "the argument in the Best Buy," and that's the goal of this show: Let's have emotional family drama spill out into these corporate, clean worlds. Even when you have these big-box stores, there are still people with feelings in them, and that might cause you to have a meltdown in a Best Buy, and that could be very funny. That's what I like to explore.

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