If I had kids, I would never let them within 50 feet of a professional clown. Or really, anyone who has ever dressed like a clown for any reason. I would make any potential babysitters sign an affidavit stating they have never donned a red nose or painted their faces lily-white. And I don’t think I would be unreasonable to do so.
That line of thinking apparently hasn’t resonated with Dale Baskets, though I suppose it’s harder to uphold those standards when your own brother is a clown. Either way, those hutches Dale wants aren’t going to bargain for themselves, so when he and his wife have no other option, he reluctantly calls up Chip to watch their two daughters. The fact that Dale and Chip despise each other (and that just last episode, Chip tried to pass himself off as a child-predator version of his brother at church) seems to be a nonissue. Maybe Dale is more willing to trust Martha’s soothing presence, despite Chip’s bizarre insistence that she’s just too damn loud.
There’s a familiar setup at work in this episode: The well-meaning, childless adult thinks he knows how to be a parent, then finds himself wildly unqualified for the job. As soon as Chip tries to out-father his brother, we basically know what’s coming. When he reacts to his teenage niece’s threat of suicide by rounding up the gang and driving straight to the home of the girl who’s tormenting her, it seems like an utterly predictable recipe for disaster. And when we actually learn why these two high-school girls are trying to ruin each other’s lives, Chip’s reaction clues us into what we’re supposed to think: “Teen girls, amirite?”
It’s a lame, outdated joke — and in this context, it’s even strange. It seems like getting the two girls to hash out their differences in front of adults would actually constitute a good idea, no? Their disputes sound so insular out in the open that this could have led to a teachable moment. But instead, Chip panics and drags his nieces back to their house. Then, when he insults the younger girl’s dancing abilities, it seems like disaster for his babysitting gig … until he pulls an abrupt 180, suddenly endearing himself to both girls in a way that feels unearned. When he and Martha left the house, I had to suddenly get used to this new conclusion that Chip is good with kids, and would actually like to be a parent. Writer Samuel D. Hunter, who also penned last week’s stellar episode, doesn’t sell the arc from goat to Uncle Dad as well as he could have.
Elsewhere, we’re finally getting some of the fish-out-of-water comedy that comes with sticking a French princess in the middle of Bakersfield. The scenes of Mama Baskets dragging Penelope out for a day on the town are strangely delightful, like when Mama assumes Penelope would know about two-for-one wine Wednesdays. Even the shopping-at-Costco scene, yet more evidence in favor of product placement on this show, didn’t feel too belabored.
Just as important, these scenes reveal a deeper layer of maternal love and shrewdness to Mama — along with another chance to praise Louie Anderson’s brilliantly off-kilter performance. Mama puts on a country-bumpkin front, which Penelope is only too happy to mock, but she’s also quick to discern how her son is being manipulated, and takes steps to stop it.
How this Penelope business will play out in the coming episodes is anyone’s guess. It certainly seems like she’s boarding that plane back to France. Is she off the show for good? Will Chip finally snap to his senses and realize that starting a family with a wife who doesn’t love him, when he has no full-time job, is probably his single worst idea? And how much longer can we watch this man grovel at the feet of a woman who treats him like a literal dog before we throw our hands up and cry, “Enough!”
That’s partly why, despite the script problems, it felt so rewarding to witness Chip’s fleeting moments of happiness in this episode. His nieces actually seem to like and respect him, and there’s no feeling better than making a child smile. Especially if you’re a self-professed clown.
- “Uncle Dad” has a pretty great opening sequence: As a steer is about to be turned into meat, the rodeo employees start calling dibs on the cuts. It’s a nice snapshot of country life, and one we’re more likely to see in Entertainment than popular entertainment.
- Also, Chip? Never request the “meatloaf.” Technically a hunk of anything from that cow would be considered meatloaf.
- We haven’t seen much of Ernest Adams’s Eddie, but he always nails his bemused-cowboy line readings. (Bit of trivia: According to the press notes for this show, newbie screen presence Adams got his start on Portlandia, but didn’t have enough money to join the actor’s union. That’s where he met Kritzel, though, who made him a featured regular on Baskets.)
- In a callback to the first episode, Dale still refers to Martha as “Marsha.”
- I’m a little surprised the show went for a Chip-is-kinda-racist joke when he said his half-Filipino nieces are half-Chinese. He’s flaunted his French enlightenment in previous episodes, and seemed like the type who’d shame someone else for perceived racism.
- The whereabouts of Chip’s father Nathaniel — a.k.a. Papa Baskets — are finally revealed: He “had accidentally fallen off the bridge while admiring the river.” Another hilarious lie Mama has had to tell herself over the years to make bearable a life raising her ungrateful children. Oh, and Baskets seems ready to be upfront about that “Bakersfield is hell” narrative again.
- For all the Costco love, it’s strange Martha isn’t better at cooking for groups. Yum, bunless steamed hot dogs. (I will say, based on my own experiences: That is a strangely common babysitter-endorsed meal.)
- “Wieners-n-rice?” Galifianakis-as-Dale’s reading of that line (so haughty, so dismissive, yet kind of bumpkinlike) is gold. As Chip’s story becomes more and more depressing, Dale’s unabashedly silly presence is starting to feel like more of a relief.
- And speaking of Dale, Galifianakis explained the origins of the character in a recent “Fresh Air” interview. “I started doing that guy in high school,” he told Terry Gross. “He was just this guy that I created called the effeminate racist.”