HOLLYWOOD, California — “I’ll have the McWhopper,” Zach Galifianakis jokes as he settles down into a booth at the Arby’s on Sunset Boulevard at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. “They don’t have Dr. Skipper, do they?”
Along with his Baskets co-star Martha Kelly and co-creator Jonathan Krisel, Galifianakis is at Arby’s to schmooze with Emmy Awards voters. Later, after speaking with a group of journalists, he will spend hours both taking and delivering drive-thru orders to lucky members of the Television Academy who will ultimately decide the FX show’s Emmy fate.
Louie Anderson—the only actor on the show to win an Emmy for his portrayal of matriarch Christine Baskets—strolls in late wearing his signature dark blue dress shirt and bright red tie. “Sorry, you guys, I was making fries,” he deadpans.
The decision to hold the For Your Consideration day at Arby’s—as opposed to say, the lavish theater at the Ace Hotel where NBC’s This Is Us held its event that same night—is a perfect reflection of this understated, irreverent show.
“I mean, it’s just a TV show, have it in an Arby’s!” Galifianakis, who spends as much time as he can on his farm in North Carolina, jokes of these FYC events. “God, this town and how it takes itself so seriously, it makes me sick. We’re dumb actors! That’s how we ended up with Trump, celebrity worship.”
This Arby’s location is the same one the show has filmed in periodically over its first three seasons, including the third season’s Thanksgiving episode, which found a troupe of French clowns joining the Baskets family for a fast-food dinner. Anderson calls it “one of the greatest moments” in the show’s history.
“I know you probably think we shoot at Arby’s headquarters,” Galifianakis jokes. “And I had been here a long time ago, as a customer.”
Similarly, Anderson recalls coming to this Arby’s drive-thru every night at 2 a.m. after performing at The Comedy Store in the mid-1980s. “I got an Arby’s special, two different types of fries, a Jamocha shake, and then I’d drive though again,” he says.
“We wanted to show the dirtiness that TV doesn’t show a lot,” Galifianakis says of the decision to make this particular chain, which also became a frequent punchline on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, such a big part of Baskets. “You don’t really see real fast-food places being used. And unfortunately, the country has turned into this sort of fast-food mentality and we wanted to highlight that and show it.”
Arby’s was originally written into the pilot as a throwaway joke, but once they started writing the first season, they realized it could be a recurring location for the characters, including Galifianakis’ Chip, who has to keep returning to his job there after failing in his quest to become a successful clown.
“How many questions will be about Arby’s?” Galifianakis wants to know before the press conference officially gets underway. “You know, we have a show.”
And that show just got picked up for a fourth season, despite what can generously be described as modest ratings. Galifianakis, who plays twins Chip and Dale Baskets on the show, explains that he set out to portray characters who were not exactly “likeable,” to use a favorite term of network executives. But three seasons in, he has started to allow them to approach something resembling “redemption.”
Over the course of the show’s run, Anderson has undoubtedly become the breakout star of Baskets with his Emmy-winning performance as Christine. What could have been a one-note joke has evolved into a nuanced and emotional portrayal of a woman finding herself in her golden years.
While Christine may seem like the “opposite” of her “artist, weirdo kid,” Krisel says he strives to show that they are not so different. “She’s sort of an artist in her own right,” he explains. “These types of ladies are magical, too. It’s not just beautiful models who, like, romp through Paris. These are interesting, poetic lives, too.”
“All the silly, traditional, buttoned-up stuff in sitcoms is never happening in Baskets,” Anderson adds, “which is beautiful.” When Anderson refers to himself as “a really pretty woman,” Galifianakis shoots back, “Look, Louie, whatever you keep telling yourself…”
“Families are messy” and their problems aren’t “fixed by one quirky line,” Galifianakis adds. “From the beginning, we wanted it to be a lot of things. And I think now that we’re going into our fourth season, we know the show better than we did during the first season.”
“Life isn’t all jokes or all drama,” he continues, noting that when he watches dramatic shows he’s always hoping that someone will make a joke. “I just haven’t seen a show like this that has dramatic elements and then goofy jokes.” Galifianakis did admit later that he’s never seen his fellow FX show Atlanta, which could be described the same way.
Christian Sprenger, who served as the director of photography for Baskets’ first season, notably left the show to do the cinematography for Atlanta, a fact Galifianakis still seems a little salty about.
“I’ve seen Atlanta and I love it,” Martha Kelly chimes in. “I just want to get that on the record.”
This past season of Baskets was the first one produced without the participation of another FX auteur, Louis C.K., who co-created the show with Galifianakis and Krisel, but stepped aside after the revelations about his history of sexual misconduct. Galifianakis has described C.K.’s exit as “disruptive in a harmful way to so many people,” chalking his behavior up to “the poison of celebrity culture: The fact that someone can think that just because they’re loved, they can do what they want.”
Anderson told The Daily Beast earlier this year that he was “so sad” and “a little shocked” by everything that came out about C.K., who had first pitched the idea of him playing Christine Baskets. “It’s still a very emotional thing for me,” he said at the time. “I feel bad for everyone involved. It’s a terrible thing.”
The recent season finale ended on a double cliffhanger of sorts. As the family counts down to midnight on New Year’s Eve, Chip gets an unexpected phone call from his estranged wife Penelope and Christine’s boyfriend Ken says he has a “question” for her. As her face lights up, the screen cuts to black.
Krisel and the cast confirm that they had no idea if they would be given the chance to make a fourth season when they decided to end it that way, but they all seem excited by the opportunity to continue the story.
That being said, they still don’t know what they want to do next. Galifianakis and Anderson recently had dinner to discuss some storylines, and as Krisel says, “There were some terrible ideas that came out of it.”
“I mean, the numbers on this show, I’ve never looked at them, but I’m imagining they’re below average,” Galifianakis says with a laugh. Thankful for FX’s ongoing support, he suggests that if the show had been on a broadcast network, “People would have walked out of the pilot.”
“We really are lucky,” Anderson adds.
So are the show’s fans.