In tonight’s chronicle of the world’s most serious clown, we step outside the rodeo and enter the realm where Chip Baskets truly becomes his most unintentionally clownish: marriage. We first met Chip’s French wife Penelope in the pilot, when she agreed to marry this doughy man as her ticket to America. “I don’t love you. I don’t find you very attractive,” she told him. At least she was up front about her intentions.
But Chip is ever an optimist — or, if you will, a sucker. As his financial and personal situation craters around him, he still harbors hope of a reconciliation with Penelope. (Even that term seems misplaced, though, since there doesn’t appear to have been any, ahem, conciliation.) After scoring a plump insurance check — from that time Martha destroyed his scooter — Chip’s only thought is how to impress Penelope. And if you thought being kicked in the head by a bull was humiliating, well, that was nothing compared to what happens in “Strays.”
Chip’s obliviousness/willful ignorance of his wife’s total disinterest proves to be great fodder for comedy, particularly in a hilarious bit where he buys her a TV with 4K resolution, only to watch the same 4K demo footage over and over again. (“The technology hasn’t caught up yet.”) And all the while, the hunky, shirtless farmer boy (Shel Rasten) who’s been, er, cultivating Penelope stays cheerful and friendly with Chip, even offering him a homegrown nectarine after Chip tries and fails to slash his truck’s giant, he-man tires.
Sabina Sciubba still doesn’t have much to do as Penelope, since the show has yet to truly explore the comic potential of a snooty French bohemian marooned in Bakersfield. Even when “Strays” focuses on her, she’s mainly around to be the impervious ice queen. This makes the final scene, where Penelope invites Chip to take a dip in the pool with her in a very leading fashion, all the more befuddling. The fun of her character, until this point, stemmed from just how utterly uninterested in Chip she is: not just as a romantic interest, but at the concept of his very existence. Hinting that there could be something in the air between them seems to undermine that entire point. How far will the Baskets team go with this romance-that-isn’t? Does anyone believe that these two will work it out? If so, you might be a better audience for this show than I am.
Meanwhile, the ever-hapless Martha has taken in an abandoned “dog,” assuming it’s been mistreated by its former owners. She believes it’s incumbent on her to show this animal that a bright spot does exist in humanity. Having met some dog owners who had no business owning dogs, the barbs at Martha’s expense gave me a chuckle: She names him “Boots” and is then surprised when he doesn’t respond to her calls, and ascribes human motivations where simple animal instincts would be more useful. The fact that this dog goes on to utterly wreck her apartment — and then turns out to not be a dog at all, but a vicious coyote — doesn’t register to her as anything grander than an annoyance. (It’s strangely soothing to hear her whine, “Oh, nooo!”) But this is also a savage dig at well-meaning but inept animal people: Martha knows nothing about animal behavior and can’t even distinguish between species, so her apartment paid the price.
The scene where Chip yells at the coyote, discovering the parallels between himself and the wild animal (they both “love a lady,” yet have no business in her world) is oddly touching. Its effectiveness is due to a combination of Galifianakis’s fully committed performance and the ominous desert-night setting — yet another great choice made by director Jonathan Krisel, whose work has been outstanding throughout the series. Most sitcoms bathe every scene in light, and Baskets tends towards a more shadow-heavy, dynamic look. This is clearly a show that aims to make its lead characters look as unflattering as possible, so it helps to know a confident hand is steering the ship.
The show’s deliberate pacing is also on display during the concluding scene between Chip and Penelope at the swimming pool, with those slow-motion, languorous shots of Chip cleansing himself in the water. Sure, this kind of stuff is done on film anytime someone jumps into a pool with their clothes on, but the sequence feels nicely off-rhythm. Every beat of a half-hour comedy is usually calibrated to the second, and characters rarely catch their breath. Patience is a virtue, and especially so in comedy — though as Chip has learned, too much patience is an invitation for your own kind of defeat.
- “It’s a European thing: Americano.” This show’s depiction of an American jerk who went abroad and got enlightened is so pitch-perfect.
- We should all be living in space with Ronald Reagan, Mama Baskets. All of us.
- Why did Penelope want to come to America so badly if she’s content lounging in a singles building? They don’t have those in France?
- Martha’s twisted dog-refuge logic is something to behold: “I’m supposed to take care of him. If I don’t, he’s going to assume all people are bad, and very likely could wind up eating somebody’s baby. And he would be right to do it.”
- For an insurance agent, oft-injured Martha tends to cause an awful lot of property damage. (What’s that, you say? That’s the joke?)
- I would like to own a zebroid.
- We haven’t seen much of Chip’s clowning act since the pilot. I’m curious if he’s evolved past high-art references. But still not curious enough to actually want a clown in front of me.