I had a “Dog Days Are Over” phase.
It was the summer of 2011, and I had booked a two-week road trip across America to watch as many baseball games as possible. Every day a new stadium – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, then across the heartland to Omaha and Denver, then back around to Kansas City, St. Louis and Cincinnati.
In two weeks, almost entirely alone, I drove from one city to the next, my own self-imagined bohemian voyage. Only I simply took a two-week vacation from work, and I had spent over $1,000 on buying game tickets, hotel rooms (I didn’t necessarily stay in great places), food and gasoline. Plus connections allowed me to step on the field at a couple places, and I had clubhouse access at a few stadiums, too.
This wasn’t bohemian, but as a 26-year-old single white guy trying to make something out of a quarter-life crisis, I thought my trip would be a cure-all. And if there was a theme song, it most certainly was “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine.
“Dog Days Are Over” is total empowerment. It’s bombastic and booming with starts and stops, allowing for the rush of breath to leave at any moment, then for a sweeping resolve to toss you into a new you. It’s more than perfect, an indie song that captured a post-financial-crisis white zeitgeist of folks enamored with recovering from whatever small problems they had.
And just like my time with the song – in which I was finally “discovering” myself (please, I still stumbled a crapload after my “Dog Days” phase) – many more Americans surely felt some sort of fake, do-it-myself gusto as it streamed on their pocket-sized devices.
Enter Dale Baskets, of BASKETS, who is finally coming to grips with his wife not wanting him around, and his life being a mockery. Or sort of.
Not allowing any time to absorb his bad behavior and the reasons behind his problems (his father, for one), Dale goes on a “Dog Days Are Over” festival as he runs, makes terrible smoothies and fraternizes with a selfie stick. It’s painfully obvious that this isn’t a guy who’s finally taking control of his life, just a loser trying to keep attention on him. There’s a scene in this week’s “Fight” where Dale rummages the aisles of Costco looking for a selfie stick. But instead of going about his business, he attempts to ask passersby (middle-aged women) where the selfie sticks might be. And he does this while wearing his earphones, “Dog Days Are Over” powering through into his tiny brain.
That’s a man who wants people to look at him. He wants women to stop and fawn over his sweaty workout clothing, his fancy technology and his choice of music, which to him is perfect for middle-aged white women needing a white knight, but in reality is about seven (let’s be honest, eight) years too late.
So it’s no surprise that when he returns home to make his smoothies and dance around the house, he explicitly complains to his family (because they won’t deny him) that nobody cares about him.
Enter Chip Baskets, of Baskets, who just saw some stuff. Some real stuff. And he’s not about to let Dale’s magical mystery tour get in the way of his troubles. Until he does.
That’s the conflict in “Fight.” Dale wants it to be about him. Chip wants to rest and think about how to turn his life around. That won’t work, so the brothers engage in a fight that starts innocuously enough but ramps up into total destruction. The toilet is knocked off his piping, causing fecal matter and urine to spray all over the bathroom. Dale breaks pictures (of course, of himself and Nicole), then breaks Christine’s sliding-glass door when he throws an energy drink toward Chip. Meanwhile Chip breaks Dale’s phone with a meat tenderizer. That’s a good touch.
Nothing seemed to be solved until the brothers have to converge in crisis: Ronald Reagan gets away. That’s Christine’s tan-haired cat, who runs off through the broken glass door, causing Chip and Dale to rescue the feline. They end up driving to the bridge from here their father committed suicide, which is where they spot Mr. Reagan. And they rescue him because Chip heard Christine talk about how the cats love the sound of a can opening.
It’s good. A little too good, but good. And the fight itself is funny – a lot of slapstick, and obvious toilet humor (har har). And praise to Zach Galifianakis for working out that fight scene, and director Jonathan Krisel for arranging it well.
The finish gets the dysfunctional brothers back on the same page. Is it possible they now think about how their father ruined them? How their lives could be so much different if their childhoods were better?
Not so sure about that.
At the very least, they’ll have to deal with Christine, who leaves the boys alone for a trip to Costco because she’s all excited about having them home and wants to make a big dinner. Her never-ending quest for stability involves buying a bunch of kid-friendly pizzas (she still thinks of her sons as adolescents) and the board game Cranium (those Baskets are so behind with the times). In the middle of it she drops in on Martha for a lunch date, and while little happens, it’s a cute diversion from the house falling part thanks to Zach Galifianakis and a stunt double.
Maybe we learn that Martha has greater feelings for Chip that she can’t let out. We kinda knew that, though. But it’s a slow burn, just like this episode, just like this season.
The stakes are low in “Fight,” but as per usual, Baskets perfectly shows the dysfunction and abnormal normalcy of middle-class white American life. “The dog days are over”? Not so much. There are no quick fixes in Baskets, only moments of funny sprinkled onto a track of sadness.
Season 2, Episode 5 (S02E05)
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