The Unconventional Breakfasts of 'Baskets'
America is a weird place. And Baskets is a weird show. Now in it’s third season, FX’s Baskets is the story of Chip Baskets, a struggling French-trained clown who moves back home to Bakersfield, California, when his career as a clown fails to gain any traction. There, Chip is forced to reconnect with his eccentric family, and soon lands a gig at a local rodeo, which doesn’t so much fit his lofty and artistic ideals of clowning; it consists mostly of him being knocked around by a bull.
Nowhere is this weirdness more apparent than in how the characters eat, particularly in how they eat—or, at least, try to eat—breakfast. In one recent episode, Christine “Mama” Baskets—played, in a revelatory turn by comedian Louie Anderson—cooks a breakfast that consists of a towering stack of her “signature Mickey Mouse pancakes,” with a side of Flintstones vitamins. “One Dino coming right up!” she says, in her distinct, cheerful, whine. In an earlier episode, Chip’s pal Martha spends an entire minute of screen time dryly comparing the breakfast offerings of Denny’s vs. IHOP.
In these moments, Baskets’ warped viewpoint is perfectly suited to capture the weirdness of modern breakfast in America—a country where a quarter of its citizens consume fast food at least once a day; where up to 20 percent of all meals are eaten in cars; and where meals are most likely to occur in front of a TV, or at a work desk.
The work and living spaces of Baskets reflect this lonely, liminal eating culture. Workspaces are strewn with an endless variety of snacks and multi-vitamins, often in comically gigantic portions, bought in bulk at the local Costco. Work is no longer fit around meals; meals, are fit around work. Breakfast, in the “conventional” sense—a home-cooked meal consumed with family—is rare. It’s insightful that almost every eating scene in Baskets takes place with a character alone (a growing American trend).
Breakfasts are more often culled together in random assortments of heavily processed, prepackaged items. Food that is readily available, requires little-to-no preparation, and packs a sugary punch. Stuff you can get at the gas station, or CVS—both places characters go to do their grocery shopping. The arrested development of the Baskets brothers, too, is reflected in their bizarre breakfast choices. Sometimes that means cheeseballs, other times it means cold Chef Boyardee noodles eaten by hand. At one point, a hungover Dale Baskets makes a breakfast out of leftover potato chips, a Toblerone, coffee, and a box of 5-hour Energy mini-bottles. He then eats this “breakfast” while sitting on a lawn chair in his driveway, watching morning joggers.
Much of the show’s food-based humor comes from a similar place: its characters’ attempts to uphold conventional practices and refinements in a world that has become so distorted by out-of-control commercialism and consumerism. One running gag has Chip cluelessly trying to order an Americano in places that likely won’t have it—a gas station, or a courtroom. “It’s a European thing: Americano,” he says. A similar gag finds his manic, repressed twin brother Dale trying to order a mimosa at a dive bar.
Christine Baskets, inspired by Anderson’s real mother, is the Reagan-loving, Costco membership-waving heart of the series. She also has an unabashed love for all things breakfast. She loves casino brunches, Denver omelets, and brags about how she’s able to fit half a hotel breakfast buffet in her purse to take home. She also loves a good mega-chain. Baskets is teeming with mega-chains. McDonald’s, Quiznos, Hooters, Applebee’s, Popeyes, all get name checked. As well as Arby’s, which has been slowly trying to rollout a new breakfast menu. One of Baskets’ most well known moments has Christine giving a driving tour of Bakersfield’s various Arby’s. “I’m loyal to the original,” she says, to Chip’s unimpressed French wife.
Baskets’ greatest breakfast achievement is the standout episode, “Easter in Bakersfield.” The episode ably captures the odd, lonely, wonder of the casino brunch experience—filled with bright lights, disappointing omelets (“cold peppers coming through!”), robotic hospitality reps, and enough surplus to feed a small town. In it we find a dressed up Christine, wanting nothing more than to have a nice Easter brunch at her favorite casino, while her family is rapidly falling apart around her. Through brunch, secrets come out: we learn about Christine’s struggles with food addiction, and the episode sets in motion a storyline dealing with her diagnoses of diabetes. Thereafter, her breakfasts include finger pricks and CGM alarms. Not the most likely territory for a comedy, but Baskets approaches it with warmth, and a frankness rarely seen on TV.
In the final scene of “Easter,” Chip sneaks a candy into Christine’s hand. They sit together as she eats it. In a weird world, maybe that’s all breakfast needs to be.