Why FX’s Bizarre New Clown Comedy ‘Baskets’ Is Obsessed With Costco and Arby’s

Eschewing the 'fake brand' in favor of authenticity

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FX's quirky comedy Baskets, starring Zach Galifianakis, is one of the season's strangest new series—it's the kind of show you'll either love or never want to watch again. The comedy, about a Paris-trained clown (Galifianakis) who's stuck working at a rodeo in Bakersfield, Calif., also features two unusual brand spotlights for Costco and Arby's, both of which are interwoven into the fabric of the series.

And even though Costco and Arby's are featured throughout the entire first season, neither is an actual integration. "Both are brands that we just wrote it into the script and then asked them if we could do it," said Jonathan Krisel, the show's co-creator and executive producer. "There's no money involved. We're not advertising for them, but it's more about the authenticity of having the real thing and not having it be a fake brand. And both of them were accommodating in that we're not celebrating them; we're not making fun."

Krisel, who grew up going to Costco with his family, said the idea to include Costco and its Kirkland products came from Baskets' production designer as a way to feature real brands on the show without having to clear them individually with multiple companies. "The production designer said, 'What if we clear Kirkland, the brand? It's the most bland brand. You never care about it,'" Krisel said. When the show approached Costco, they said, "Really? You want this?' We said, 'Could we make up like Kirkland vodka? Or, like … ' 'Yeah, whatever you want to do.'"

No money changed hands, but Costco and Arby's did allow the production to shoot in their stores and gave them "whatever we needed," said Krisel. "For me, I love and hate Costco. I think it's ruined America and made America great. One of my favorite lines I wrote for the show was when Mom [played by Louie Anderson in drag] says, 'You know, you can get two for one!' And Penelope [played by Sabina Sciubba] says, 'I just want one for one.' Because in Europe, you get what you need. In America, you get an excessive amount. And that's partially Costco's fault, in a way."

While Costco and Arby's saw Baskets scripts in advance, so both brands knew what they were getting into, "nothing changed," Krisel said. "There was talk—'Oh, could you maybe …?'—and I said no." (Neither company ran ads during Baskets' series premiere last Thursday, according to iSpot.tv data.)

One of Baskets' lead characters, Martha Brooks (played by Martha Kelly), is an insurance agent from Costco, who meets Galifianakis' Chip Baskets after he crashes his scooter. Subsequent episodes deal with Martha's efforts to sell Costco memberships (if she isn't successful, she'll be fired), while characters consume Kirkland products and talk about their love of the store. In the fifth episode, Anderson takes Galifianakis' estranged wife (Sciubba), who is French, on a tour of Costco, marveling, "I love this place. I'd love to get lost in here," and asking, "Do you have multipacks in France?"

Arby's is also a frequent source of discussion on Baskets, with Anderson noting during tonight's episode, "Nothing would be make me happier than being able to make my own curly fries." (There's more Arby's love in the promo below.) The fast-food chain's inclusion in Baskets is completely independent of its recent push to turn the Arby's brand around, which landed it on the cover of Adweek earlier this month.

The brands help illuminate Baskets' main theme, said Krisel. "That's the whole show—Paris: the simple thing, and America: parking lots and Costco—so the beauty versus the ugliness. Clown school in Paris, rodeo clown in America—it's back and forth. So we had to have Costco to make that realistic."

Integration or not, the Baskets spotlight could be beneficial for both brands. Last week, Baskets had the most-watched basic cable comedy series premiere since 2014, drawing 1.05 million adults in the 18-to-49 demo (and 1.75 million total viewers) in live-plus-three numbers.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.