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For Louie Anderson, honoring his late mother with Baskets' Christine Baskets was his life's work

  • "It felt right that Louie Anderson hit the peak of his popularity playing a version of his own mother on the FX comedy series Baskets," says Matt Zoller Seitz, in paying tribute to the comedian and Emmy-winning actor, who died last Friday at age 68. "Honoring his mother was Anderson’s life’s work, and the 68-year-old entertainer, who died on January 21 of cancer, accomplished it beyond his wildest imaginings. Throughout his long career as a stand-up comic, writer, actor, Family Feud host, and series creator (the animated Life With Louie), Anderson drew on what he called his 'poor white-trash' Minnesota youth. He grew up in St. Paul in a house with 11 children where every month the family would have to decide 'whether to shut off the gas or the lights.' He described his father, Louis William Anderson, a trumpeter who once played with Hoagy Carmichael, as a self-pitying alcoholic who invoked his World War II experience to win arguments ('Oh yeah? Well, have ya ever been pinned down by a sniper in France?') and constantly groused and snarled at his spouse, his kids, and random strangers. Anderson described his mother, Ora Zella Anderson, as an upbeat and inexhaustible person — the kind of housewife who might’ve been a performer, entrepreneur, or politician had she not been born in 1912 who managed to be kind despite her husband’s cruelty. He returned to the stark differences between his mother and father so regularly and incisively that he made it the text rather than subtext of his life’s work. He cast them as recurring characters in his routines, including his very first national TV appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1984...Late in life he managed to become her, in a sense, by playing Christine Baskets, the doting mother of two sets of identical twins (one played by Zach Galifianakis, the other played by Garry and Jason Clemmons). After decades of taking supporting and walk-on parts in comedies like Coming to America, Back by Midnight, and Do It for Uncle Manny, Anderson’s soulful work on Baskets cemented his bona fides as a screen actor (he was nominated for three Emmys as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, winning in 2016). Christine was acerbic but never wantonly vicious. When she laid a hand on her sons, it was comically exaggerated, like something out of a cartoon. Her unconditional love always shone through. The role opened new avenues for Anderson as a longform storyteller whose work was about more than setups and punchlines."


    • Christine Baskets was one of TV's greatest characters: "For me, Christine is one of the great TV characters, up there with Homer Simpson, Tony and Carmela Soprano or any of the Golden Girls," says Shane O'Neill. "She was a caricature of a matriarch, but brought complexity and nuance to a type that is usually relegated to sketch comedy, two-dimensional walk-ons or viral videos of monstrous Karens. As a fat person, as a Midwesterner, and as a drag enthusiast with a folksy middle-aged persona of my own, watching Christine Baskets in all her ridiculousness, nuance, power and covert wisdom was thrilling. It was a portrait of a woman I know and love who has never been presented with such affection and skill on television, before or since."

    TOPICS: Louie Anderson, Baskets, Retro TV