Louie Anderson won his first ever Primetime Emmy last year as Best Comedy Supporting Actor for his scene-stealing performance in FX’s absurdist comedy “Baskets.” Anderson plays Christine Baskets, the loving but overbearing mother of twins Chip and Dale (Zach Galifianakis), and he looks set to claim a bookend trophy if this current season is anything to go by.
Although some of us savvy Emmy Awards prognosticators knew voters would take to this performance, it was somewhat of a surprise to many that he was able to triumph over the likes of multiple Emmy winners Andre Braugher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) and Tony Hale (“Veep”) — especially for a series that received no other nominations last year.
And now that we’re midway through Season 2 of “Baskets,” it is clear that last year was no fluke, as Anderson continues to dazzle with his risky and delightfully offbeat performance as the take-no-prisoners matriarch with heart. That’s good news for the stand-up comedian, who looks very likely to return as an Emmy nominee later this year. Along with the usual suspects in this category, perhaps his most formidable competition will be Alec Baldwin (himself a multiple Emmy winner for “30 Rock”), who has owned the zeitgeist this season with his spot-on skewering of President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.” Remember, now that Baldwin’s episode count has exceeded the 50% limit for guest actors, he won’t be eligible in the Best Comedy Guest Actor category and will instead compete as a supporting player.
That being said, don’t write off the category yet. Anderson has really brought his A-game this season, in a role that is like nothing else on TV. At first glance, he’s such a standout because he’s a well-known comic who completely transforms himself as a woman of a certain age without veering into a camera-mugging novelty act caricature. He is so good that you often forget it’s a man playing a woman. That’s because his heartfelt and genuinely funny performance is so honest and nuanced that we can’t help but sit up and pay attention every time he graces the screen.
Anderson already has a dynamite submission to Emmy voters (should he be nominated), as the third episode (“Bail”) effectively reminds us how he makes this character seem so effortlessly funny while making us feel something at the same time. In a series of scenes that reflect Christine’s otherwise mundane suburban existence, Anderson gives us an insight into how this woman thinks and what makes her feel.
For example, Christine is on a new health kick to get fit and lose weight. Attending an aqua aerobics class at the local pool, she triumphantly brags, “I’ve lost 32 ounces!” to an acquaintance she runs into in the change room. Later, as she ventures out to Camerillo, CA to bail her troubled son Chip out of jail, she hilariously wonders out loud, “Where am I going to eat? Are there chains there?” In her hotel room, she hastily places two chocolates left on her hotel bed in the room safe. After posting her son’s bail, she dines with her son, and halfheartedly avoids the temptation of dessert by chomping down on ice to quell her sweet-tooth craving. So far, so funny. But Anderson saves the best for last, as the episode winds down with Christine sitting on her hotel bed, lamenting about how difficult it is to be a good mother, then impulsively snatching those tempting chocolates out of the safe and flushing them down the toilet.
The episode ends on a resolute Christine driving to the nearby lake, bravely disrobing into her bikini and wandering into the water to complete her aqua aerobics routine under the moonlight. It’s perfect. Each scene re-emphasizes that underneath the bravado is a sadness and longing for a better life. And this makes us love this woman even more. Get your Emmy speech ready, Mr Anderson, as I suspect you’ll need it.