The second season of "Baskets" is even better than the first season — welcome news for those loyal fans who took time off from a billion other binge-worthy shows in 2016 to watch Zach Galifianakis play a fortysomething out-of-work clown and Louie Anderson portray his concerned mother.
"Baskets" wasn't a blockbuster when it debuted on FX last year, but the dark comedy dealt with the popular themes of self-loathing, adult-life crisis and sick relationships better than much more hyped series such as "Animals," "Love" and "Girls."
The show followed Chip Baskets, who attended a professional clown academy in Paris before returning to his hometown of Bakersfield with romantic aspirations of Pierrot-like fame.
Yet the only job the art-minded performer can find is at a local rodeo, dodging bucking broncos and beer cups thrown by drunken patrons. Chip ends up moving back in with his mother, who is a living, breathing daily reminder of his epic failures.
The care Anderson took in playing the role of Christine Baskets was a large part of "Baskets" critical success. Far from the tired joke of a burly male comedian camping it up in women's clothing, Anderson's performance was a revelation, a straight-ahead portrait of a widow leading an unremarkable middle-class life but who found joy in the most pedestrian of things — those "cute little" bottles of Dasani water, brunch at the local casino, Costco.
For his effort, Anderson won the Emmy for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series. The honor gave "Baskets" (created by Galifianakis, Louis CK and Jonathan Krisel) major recognition, while providing Anderson with a breakthrough role at age 63.
Now Christine is facing new challenges thanks to the rash actions of her misguided son. Anderson does a beautiful job portraying the ups and downs of a conflicted yet loyal parent, while staying true to the off-kilter humor that helped propel season one (the nasal, high-pitched voice, the poorly-applied coral lipstick).
Chip's rodeo job has dried up, and he has disappeared following a brief, unhappy stint at an Arby's restaurant. No one, not even his twin bother Dale (also played by Galifianakis), knows that he's taken the clown fantasy to the extreme. Or at least the Red Skelton version of it.
He's living the life of a hobo, jumping from boxcar to boxcar, eating cold Chef Boyardee noodles — that is, when he can figure out how to open the can with a bent railroad spike.
He meets up with a tattered, tattooed street performance troupe, gets in trouble, and Christine steps in to save him — again.
While she's his biggest critic, she's also his fiercest protector. It's that fraught relationship that makes "Baskets" a uniquely powerful comedy.
The absurdity of Chip's dream is pitted against his mother's dashed expectations. And while she's forced to reflect on the type of mother she's been, he sees her struggling with her own self-awareness. Was she not there for him enough when his father died? It's all compounded by her need to lose weight after a health scare. To eat that chocolate or not to eat that chocolate is no laughing matter here.
The chemistry between Anderson and Galifianakis drives the best parts of the new season, but it's not at the expense of sharp humor, biting irony and plummeting self worth rendered funny by its sheer hopelessness.
"I went to France to study how to be a clown," says Chip to another performer. "I found clowns aren't needed as much now since the world's become so clownish."
When: 10 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)