“Please don’t use a bad word when you can use a good one”.- Jeff “Pickles” Piccirillo
Kidding reunites Jim Carrey and director/executive producer Michel Gondry to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle for the second time after their fantastic collaborative work on 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s a show that’s garnered quite a bit of media attention for both Carrey’s return to television and his apparent return to the more dramatic roles that the general public always knew he was capable of. I’ve been greatly anticipating the series since it was announced last year and I’m pleased to report that the series opener ‘Green Means Go’ is a promising start to what could be both a remarkable character study and a worthy platform for Carrey’s talent in front of the camera.
Carrey plays Jeff “Pickles” Piccirillo, a Mr. Rogers-esque children’s television personality and “one man brand” that excels in teaching young kids the ways of life. However, behind the scenes his personal life is littered with grief after the death of one of his twin sons, Phil, in a car accident almost a year ago, that shattered his home life and made his wife Jill (Judy Greer) leave him. Jeff’s torn between consistently playing the real-life, kind, supportive and family-friendly version of himself on his television show and finally allowing himself to feel true emotions (in this case in the form of grief and anger). It surely doesn’t help that the one telling him not to change his image is his own father Seb (Frank Langella) who just happens to be the executive producer of Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time.
Written and created by Dave Holstein, Kidding allows Carrey to play the most fully-formed character he has portrayed in years. I’m not quite sure whether this is detrimental to the series opener yet or not, as it seems that all involved have already cemented who Jeff is going to be from the get-go, and therefore it means (with this episode especially) the audience has to play a game of catch up in order to understand Jeff on the same level. That’s nothing against the performance and production itself, it’s merely just a case of throwing us in at the deep end, which is an interesting approach.
For example, Jeff’s opener in which he appears on Conan alongside Danny Trejo is a tad disconcerting. It’s a nice idea to show us how out of touch Jeff is with this entertainment world, and Trejo is jarring in his limited screen time, but as an introduction it doesn’t quite work as well as the rest of the episode does.
“I had a son. And he died.”- Jeff “Pickles” Piccirillo
The main bulk of the episode concerns Jeff proposing that they tackle the topic of death on his show leading up to the anniversary of Phil’s passing. Jeff’s show is a light-hearted affair, a Jim-Henson-inspired puppetry oasis (designed by Catherine Keener‘s Dierdre, Jeff’s sister) that succumbs to the will of the advertisers whilst showboating colourful characters that the kids can be charmed by. Seb allows Jeff his episode about death to be filmed but doesn’t air it, and it’s here where the first grip of Kidding occurs. Carrey’s Jeff is a destroyed man talking to children about a subject that he struggles with, and if the show can offer more of these moments (which it looks like it will) it could be something truly special.
Meanwhile other plot threads are dangled in front of us as Dierdre discovers her husband’s homosexuality, a darkly comedic thread that undercuts the nice piece of parenting she gives her daughter Maddy (you’re not allowed to wash yourself until you eat your vegetables). Jeff takes it upon himself to move next door to Jill to allow himself to comfort her in her time of need, only to realise she may have a new man to help her with that already. Whilst Jeff’s other son Will seems to be undergoing a familiar ‘rebellious’ route to lash out instead of talking about his feelings. All of these threads offer up interesting roads for the show to take, and the darkly comedic sensibilities seem perfect for the cast and crew to lap up.
As introductions go it’s a little bit of a mixed bag, but with the promise that the rest of the series seems to have, it seems as though Kidding could end up being a rather special piece of television. Maybe even something along the lines of the darkly comic Bojack Horseman if they can stick the landing.