“We weren’t the only ones who lost something [in the crash]” – Jeff ‘Pickles’ Piccirrilo.
We’re now almost halfway through Kidding and whilst there are brief moments of brilliance and a strong central performance from Jim Carrey, it’s a tonal struggle that prevents the show from going down as something truly special. This week’s instalment was no different.
Some of the show’s standout moments have been from the darkly humorous cold-opens but this week we’re deprived of even that, instead offering up a strange, potentially metaphorical segue of the show’s effect on the naïveté of its audience, inspiring young ones to go galavanting off the edge of waterfalls in nothing but an empty barrel and a bedsheet parachute. It’s a nice little image to bookend the episode on, especially after Shaina’s life-changing experience from Puppet Time last week. In actuality though, it’s the naïveté of Jeff himself that works both for and against the show. Whilst it allows for a whole host of misunderstandings and strange interactions with the supporting cast and offers up a platform for change where his arc can truly begin, it also contrasts and dwindles much of the successful drama that is built up within a number of scenes.
For example, after spending the night with Vivian (which is strange by the way, ending the previous episode after a potentially-devastating sexual encounter only to follow it up with a character we had known for all of thirty seconds), Jeff is perplexed by the lack of a response to his message asking her out once again. Whilst on one hand it’s worrying that a man Jeff’s age is that innocent to not believe someone would just ignore him, his trip to ‘the phone store’ with Will (Cole Allen) plays it for sincerity. Will has to take on the adult responsibilities in social situations such as this, whilst Jeff’s undying compassion for humanity leads to his son finding out that Jeff pays for the man who was driving the car that killed his brother to, essentially, live. It’s a touching moment, and Will’s understated response speaks more than dialogue could. He knows his dad is just trying to do best for everyone, but sometimes kindness isn’t helpful or healthy.
Meanwhile Dierdre’s (Catherine Keener) husband Scott (Bernard White) deals with being abandoned by Rex, his lover behind Deedee’s back. It’s the first time Scott’s actually been given some proper screentime, and his childish behaviour to such a break-up and his confession that he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to go into work again works well for the character and finally gives Keener something to do (besides from play the tooth fairy, but, more on that later). Scott’s coming out to his wife is a wonderful moment, played as the biggest moment of Scott’s life but an unavoidable question of guilt for Dierdre, the two play off each other well and it’s good to see Keener having screen time with someone other than Frank Langella. Not to mention Maddy’s (Juliet Morris) secret agenda for her missing milk teeth being to create ‘Mr. Chompers’, a grotesque puppet like the ones her mother makes. Why such a brazenly bizarre and wonderful idea was given about five seconds of time is beyond me, but this is the strange and disturbing Maddy and Dierdre of the series opener I like.
At work though, Seb and Deedee finally make some headway (hehe) in crafting the fictional version of Jeff for Puppet Time (to the chagrin of Dee). Jeff’s expulsion of love for Vivian, a cancer patient given six weeks to live, gives the show a ticking time bomb to find a replacement, and is a nice device to frame the rest of the show in. The props created on the show continue to be wonderful and reminiscent of the Jim Henson company, but it’s Jeff’s cold reaction to finding the giant head of himself that sheds some new light on his behaviour. Instead of succumbing to any emotions or talking to him like Dierdre does, he places the head on his shoulders and recounts the plot of Robocop softly and calmly…right down to just hinting that violence ensues once the cop is replaced. It’s a chilling warning from someone whose wicked side is quickly becoming a reality.
Jeff’s emotional cracks continue both on and offscreen, and him pouncing on one of Will’s poor inebriated friends whilst taking advantage of the internet’s rumors about him being a sniper for the CIA is a particular highlight. Director Jake Schreier knows how to utilise long takes, and though it’s not as powerful as last week’s emotional milestone, it’s a platform that makes the most of Carrey’s abilities as Jeff sounds off every vaguely-threatening word he can think of when sarcastically exclaiming he has no experience in murdering someone. Jeff has hidden a lot of real-world knowledge from everyone that, fingers crossed, will emerge throughout the remaining episodes. Does this mean that his continued innocence has since become nothing but a charade? Towards the end of the episode Jill (Judy Greer) confronts Jeff about his kindness towards the man who killed their son. Jill’s argument is solid, no matter how hard she tries, her knowledge of the real world makes her seem cold beside Jeff and always has.
“You’re Santa, I’m Mrs.Claus” – Jill Piccirillo.
The combination of Phil’s death and her reflection on her marriage to Jeff is enough to drive anyone mad, it’s impossible to stay around someone so consistently caring and wholesome. It’s alien and something that I think the show nails in relation to Jeff with the supporting cast. It’s no surprise then that it ends with a ruthless string of harsh truths which lead Jeff to a bout of silence and near-breakdown, just before an awaited text from Vivian pulls him back from the brink. We’re almost through the looking glass in terms of Jeff’s mental stability, and all signs are pointing to an explosive midpoint that could make the rest of the series very interesting indeed.
Kidding continues to impress in a variety of areas, though I can’t help but hope we’re yet to see all the show has to offer. The possibility of multiple episodes featuring a broken and sociopathic Jeff would allow Carrey and the cast to really let loose. But, for now, at least we have the promise of more of Ginger Gonzaga’s Vivian, who, alongside Cole Allen seems to have the best chemistry with Carrey.