The last time Jim Carrey did a weekly show was 1991 so seeing promos for his new dramedy was jarring. Carrey stars in Kidding the brainchild of Dave Holstein (former writer for Weeds) and in the premiere episode we see why the star attached himself to the project. The powers that be knew exactly what they were doing when they teamed Carrey up with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s director Michel Gondry to introduce us to a heartbreakingly funny show.
Unofficially Carrey plays two characters; grieving father Jeff Piccirillo and the Mr. Rogers-like Jeff Pickles. 99% of the time Carrey is Jeff Pickles the guy we all grew up watching on PBS. Pickles taught multiple generations how to be friendly, kind and their colors on Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time.
The Jeff Pickles character is not exactly a stretch for Carrey. It’s a unique blend of characters we’ve seen before. There are hints of Ace Ventura a muted version yes but the overwhelming need to educate the world around them. The loveable loser from Bruce Almighty shows his face as we see someone who finds immense joy in bringing happiness to others. The innocence of Horton bleeds through the screen when Mr. Pickles appears. At the end of the day, Carrey will always be able to bring a lightness to his projects, this is what gets us through the front door. What gets the audience to stay is Jeff Piccirillo.
Jeff Piccirillo is broken man and you can’t blame him He is grieving the loss of his child; a year his wife’s SUV was T- Boned by a snack cake truck. Cue delicious irony. His family life is predictably in shambles. While he is no doubt paying for and cleaning a home that could be found on Wisteria Lane, Jeff lives in student housing( his neighbor had 40 oz ducked taped to her hands) His relationship with his remaining son is nonexistent. His son calls him a pussy citing that this reason “mom left.”
Any other family interaction can be defined as a contractual obligation. You just want this man to get a win.
Watching Carrey clean his former home for estranged wife Jill played by Judy Greer (MCU’s Maggie Lang) is hard to watch. It’s hard to watch because Jill has a hard time existing in a world were her son Phil isn’t alive. Greer beautifully plays a woman who is a shell of herself the only time she shows actual emotion and life behind her eyes is when she rebuffs Jeff’s misguided attempts of making things right, she doesn’t even bat an eye when their son Will writes Buffalo Cunt on a bathroom mirror. She just remarks that she thinks he wrote cunt first and then buffalo so she’d understand the magnitude. When Greer speaks about the relationship with her son Will, it’s as if she’s accepted that this relationship will never be repaired. What Gondry does right is show that Jill is full of crap. Her eyes show a woman who wants out of this depression spiral.
Speaking of Will, he is processing his twin brother’s death in his own way. In between trying to put a beehive in the trunk of his mother’s car or telling his father, he looks like “Rosa Parks’ bus driver” is easy to see that Will is going to be the show’s comedy relief. We get to see that Will is fiercely protective of his brother even in death when he used that same beehive to keep stoners from using his brother’s grave as their refuge.
When first introduced to the character Sebastian played by Frank Langella (The American’s) we think he’s simply a stuffy studio exec who wants to keep things the status quo to maintain this multimillion dollar machine. Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time formula has worked for 30 years and he’s completely uninterested in rocking the boat. It’s not until later in the episode that we learn that Sebastian is Jeff’s father. This relationship is honestly the most boring and underwhelming in the show. Don’t get me wrong the chemistry between Langella and Carrey is awesome and I am dying to see where the show takes it but it’s a trope that we’ve seen numerous times. The rich overbearing parent and the artistic dreamer isn’t exactly new ground. Jeff wants to use the show to process his grief and thinks it would be helpful to teach kids about death and how to deal with loss “we don’t need another show about colors” while Sebastian sympathizes it’s not what the show does and no one wants to see Jeff they want Mr. Pickles. In a completely raw, painful yet Mr. Roger’s way Jeff goes rogue and does a live show and does his death show. It works but the show that PBS airs is yet another episode about colors. The corporate monster wins again.
To round out the Piccirillo/Puppet Time family we have Puppet Time’s Head Puppet Maker Deirdre played by Catherine Keener (Get Out) in yet another “I’m a different kind of mom” role. When her daughter Maddy refuses to eat her veggies she tells her that she isn’t allowed to clean herself(no baths showers etc) until she does. This storyline provides obvious laughs but the longer the bit goes on the more concerning it gets. Why doesn’t she want to eat perfectly buttered broccoli? Turns out Maddy dropped the produce on the floor is because she saw her dad get a handjob from the male next door neighbor. The produce is dirty and Maddy wants no parts. Diedre is no doubt shaken by the revelation but is too stunned/heartbroken to confront her husband.
Kidding’s formula is one we’ve seen before, we’ve seen this “broken family” on shows like This Is Us, Brothers & Sisters and Parenthood; what separate Kidding from these shows is the fact that it’s is on Showtime so a scene meant to break our hearts is followed by two men having sex in a blue Snuffleupagus costume. This is after they spent the entirety of the episode denying the affair. Kidding can make the audience laugh, cry, and scratch our heads in the span of a minute because they have the artistic and more importantly MPAA freedom to be vulgar. It’s refreshing to see real human interaction. Unlike with Shameless someone’s vulgar tirade isn’t met with even meaner words, Jeff responds with his signature “don’t use bad words when good words will do” line or it is internalized. The lack of aggression displayed is more like our everyday lives, Kidding shows us how common and destructive lack of confrontation is.
This is evident when we see the real Jeff Piccirillo. When overloaded with emotion Jeff breaks a mailbox. After having learned that death episode is not airing Jeff is no doubt upset but doesn’t immediately act on it. It’s not until Sebastian coldly tells him that he cannot change no matter what Jeff is going through it cannot affect Mr. Pickles. Jeff can’t cut his hair Mr. Pickles wouldn’t. Screw that Jeff shaves a patch in the front of his head. He may not be ready to fully rebel but he is taking the steps. The episode wraps with Piccirillo’s trying to move on; Jeff buys the house right next door to his wife; Jill attends her dead son’s little league game and has a new man in her life; Will befriends the stoners he chased away.
If given a shot Kidding can become a TV force to be reckoned with. Casting Greer, Carrey, Keener, and Langella wasn’t a brave choice but it was a smart choice. The foursome is good at what they do again we’ve seen these guys play this type of role before so with good writing and even better direction the show no doubt will be the one to watch come award season.