Ken was going to ask Christine to move to Denver.
It was clear as day from the moment the two slept together in “Denver.” The final few episodes of BASKETS seemed obvious from that point, especially with pre-released episode titles. “Funeral” meant Meemaw was going to die. “Yard Sale” meant there would be a yard sale for Meemaw’s stuff, bringing some old family demons to a head. And “Circus” meant maybe Chip was getting his break after all, allowing Christine to venture off to tap the Rockies with her new squeeze.
But oh, did I forget what was happening this season. This season was all about Christine Baskets seizing control of her life, and allowing herself to be swept into a cozy carpet-selling business with her new boyfriend in a new time zone?
Ain’t no way that was happening.
And so we have “Circus,” the final episode of a stalwart second season of Baskets. In this episode, which feels a little more like a short film and less like a traditional half-hour, Christine wavers back and forth about her future, finally settling to follow her family. All she wants is a happy brood, so she ends up buying the old Bakersfield rodeo. Dale will run the show. Chip will handle the entertainment. And all is right in the world.
But we juke and jive a bit to get there. At first Christine sees that Dale needs a job and Chip needs a life, so she opts to franchise an Arby’s. Chip doesn’t want that, though, finally getting a big break by filling in for a Russian clown with an attitude in the traveling circus.
But when the family visits the circus to watch Chip’s big moment, the rug is pulled out from under him when the Russian clown returns at the last minute. Confused, he goes after the Russian clown and unwittingly causes a hilarious set piece. But his boss thinks he’s showboating (saying he wants to eat at Planet Hollywood with Arnold Schwarzenegger – a little too Yakov Smirnoff of a joke) and not behaving like a member of the carnies’ family. So he fires him.
That’s when Christine steps in, resulting in one of the more pleasant and sweet scenes of the season. The family applauds Chip, with even Dale finding a way to pay his brother a compliment, and Chip finally gets his moment of real family bliss. This is neither Morpheus and his constant-drifter monologue, nor is it the circus folk chanting in an unhinged circle – it’s people who genuinely care about Chip’s welfare. Seeing Chip needing a hand and getting a chance to stay close to family is a welcome change of pace for a show that loves the awkward and painful.
Watching Chip come close but fall unfairly short of his goal, Christine decides to stop the Arby’s franchise application (and reject Ken’s request for her to move to Denver) and buy the rodeo.
So, yes, we run through tons of plot in “Circus.” I think about how “Funeral” spent half the time dealing with Cody and Logan; though it allowed Chip and Dale to band together, I’m sure time could’ve been better served setting up developing some of the “Circus” plot. Or maybe some of “Yard Sale,” which had a lightly funny thread regarding Martha’s inability to make decisions.
Speaking of Martha, “Circus” doesn’t tell us anything more about her, other than that she refused to unionize once (which is fascinating and wonderful). Her character was slowly growing into the sneaky best thing about season two, but her development seems to have stalled.
“Circus” doesn’t do much with Dale, either, only giving him a new job, which surely he’ll fumble sometime in season three. He’s also hanging more with his children, which is relatively surprising and still unnerving after his shenanigans earlier in the season.
The point being a whole lot is rushed in “Circus” (and often at the detriment of somewhat forgotten characters), as obviously Jonathan Krisel wanted to clean everything up and start the next season fresh. For a show that was mastering the art of slow but steady character development, “Circus” felt off, almost like a standalone episode.
But it’s not as if “Circus” is a bad episode. On the contrary, it’s pretty good. It’s carefully structured, has some great locations and set design (everything from rodeo dressing rooms to wild Russian circus tents to shabby Arby’s booths, has more than a few real laugh-out-loud moments (half of Christine’s reactions, Chip’s circus follies, Martha at Costco) and is truly touching.
That’s the most important thing about “Circus” – that ultimately the Baskets family unites to finally give Chip the support necessary to achieve his goals. Christine wants to help her family. Chip and Dale are both, at least in circuitous ways, looking for families. They’ve dealt with their father’s early absence and clearly need someone around them to help push them forward. That person happens to only be Christine.
So the result of “Circus” makes perfect sense. And it shows Christine in a place of power (when Louie Anderson wears those black sunglasses, we know Christine means business), which was what the show has been building to all season. And that perfect result doesn’t happen if the characters aren’t strong; undoubtedly Baskets has some of the best characters on TV.
That’s what’ll keep me excited for season three of Baskets. Thanks to its deeply drawn and grounded characters, it emerged as one of television’s best shows in 2017.
Season 2, Episode 10 (S02E10)
Baskets airs Thursdays at 10 PM on FX
Timothy, who grew up on The Golden Girls and Seinfeld, writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications.
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Timothy Malcolm | Contributor