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Louie Anderson brought poignancy, and memories of his mother, to ‘Baskets’

Louie Anderson won an Emmy for his work as Christine in "Baskets."Ben Cohen/FX

Louie Anderson, who died on Friday, delivered one of the best TV performances of the past 20 years. On FX’s oddly sweet “Baskets,” he was unforgettable and unexpectedly moving as Christine Baskets, the mother of Zach Galifianakis’s twin characters.

It was a miraculous turn, filled with humanity, humor, and plenty of pathos. He did the role in drag, but not really for laughs. For just a second, the sight of Anderson — stand-up comic and game-show host — wearing a wig and dress might have seemed a little gimmicky. But he quickly transcended both costume and gender and you began to care about Christine, bad taste and all. She was the most poignant character on the show, an overweight mother who could project her self-loathing onto her two oldest sons but then go to extremes to protect them from any threat.


Anderson deservedly won an Emmy for the role, often noting that for him, Christine was a version of his late mother. After the premiere of “Baskets” in 2016, he appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” “I really loved playing this part,” he told host Terry Gross, “for a big reason that my mom gets to come to life.”

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.