Kidding manages to continue its winning streak with another solid instalment of Jeff Piccirillo’s (Jim Carrey) spiral into a psychotic break. Again we’re treated to a wonderful cold open of Japan’s version of ‘Mr. Pickles Puppet Time’ as the actor who portrays the titular Pickles retires and the role is passed down to a younger man in a manner not unlike a religious ceremony, complete with an eerie cracked statue of Jeff that foreshadows the episode’s final image.
I applauded last week’s writer Noah Haidle for having a clear understanding of the characters and how to mash together the offbeat comedy and sense of melancholy, and this week writer Jas Waters is no different. She undercuts heavy and emotional moments with pitch-perfect acts of surrealist tomfoolery whilst simultaneously managing to advance the characters whilst doing so. The best example this week is with the handling of Dee (Catherine Keener) who is finally given something worthy of her screen time as the new Japanese actor Pickles-san (Louis Ozawa Changchien) stays with her and Scott for a month whilst studying Jeff’s behaviour within the show. Pickles-san, who cannot speak a word of English, and her begin to form a dialogue of deep, personal truths through their puppets. The concept of Pickle-san inexplicably being able to speak fluent English when doing it as a puppet is absurdly wonderful, and leads to a few beautiful sequences where Dee’s true feelings about her family come out. The two manage to speak in philosophical metaphors effortlessly, reality is out of the window here as two unseen spotlights shine down on the two of them within the show’s workshop. The show’s really nailing the visual style even when Michel Gondry is absent (Minkie Spiro took directorial duty this week) and uses it to highlight the surrealist aspects of the characters’ psyches. Dee is just as broken as Jeff as she confesses that she only exists for other people’s purposes, making me wonder whether she’ll get her time to shine as the series begins to build to its finale.
Meanwhile Jeff and Will (Cole Allen) are on a trip to LA with Vivian (Ginger Gonzaga) via FaceTime around his neck during her chemo so she can still see the beach. Jeff’s newfound happiness from his relationship strengthens his connection with his family too, as Will teaches him how to use his new piece of technology and enjoys the lavish hotel room the two of them stay in. But it’s firmly a business trip to record lines of dialogue for the upcoming talking Mr. Pickles doll – something that, despite his newfound happiness, he still has a tough time wrapping his head around.
“Thousands of malleable minds will rip this doll off the shelves. And I don’t know if they’ll see it as a God or a gremlin” – Jeff ‘Pickles’ Piccirillo.
As he refuses to spout the simplistic and consumer-friendly lines given to him, Jeff begins to take a stand against the safe-teachings he’s been known for up until now. Spiro indulges us in a visual montage as he entices the camera with words on depression, global warming, Donald Trump, Marxism and songs about genocide. Carrey’s clearly having a ball, and the way the topics are worked into the shows echo a sense of familiarity and raise the question of why so many shows aimed at children steer away from darker topics in a sequence that’s probably going to be the subject of another behind the scenes viral video. We’re swiftly given examples of how far this can go, as Jeff attempts to teach western children not to fear the phrase ‘allahu akbar’, identifying it as a simple greeting (and one of the main things a watchful Pickles-san picks up) and leading Seb (Frank Langella) and his editors with too little footage to fill episodes with.
Whilst his work-life seems to be causing more trouble, his personal life is at an all-time high. Vivian’s cancer goes into remission thanks to her new chemo treatment, and the weight that’s been pushing Jeff down for the last few episodes is instantly gone. He’s joyous, and able to fully accept the new relationship he has with Jill (Judy Greer) and her boyfriend Peter (Justin Kirk) – inviting both of them to Dee’s with the family for Thanksgiving dinner, something he’s surprised she happily agrees to. What follows is another visual treat of a montage from Spiro, utilising the vast food across the table and large amount of mouths picking at it continuously. It’s an ocean of warmth: Jeff bonds with Peter over their love of the national dog show, Vivian, Dee and Jill talk whilst chugging down wine, Scott and Dee themselves seem to be on the mend, Will and Maddie continue Will’s burgeoning career as a magician and Seb and Pickles-san discuss the best fellatio he’s ever been given (on a bullet train in Japan, no less). Everything seems perfect for the briefest of moments, especially regarding Vivian’s diagnosis which Seb uses as a sign for everything working out in the future. But remember…life isn’t fair. The episode brilliantly teases up with the happiest of endings, showing us how good these characters can be when things go their way before pulling the rug out from under them. The family becomes enamored with the idea of a huge family vacation, to which Vivian undercuts with the notion that she’s leaving Jeff.
When Vivian was introduced the general consensus seemed to be that it would be her death from cancer that would be the final nail in the coffin for Jeff. But after hearing about her remission she finds the opportunity to rebuild herself, and the lovely Mr. Pickles does nothing but remind her of death. This, of course, is beautifully undercut by the entire Piccirillo clan screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs at Vivian; their happiness seems to hinge on Jeff’s, and this is the final nail.
What’s worse is that he’s forced to work with a reminder of her within the show thanks to his ‘Viva Las Pages’ character, something that makes Jeff fight back tears to work with. As the Mr. Pickles doll flies off the shelves to rampant Black Friday shoppers, Jeff’s solemn demeanor puts more strain on Seb as he realises Jeff’s upcoming live Christmas television appearance will put his son under even more pressure. It’s such a tonal contrast from last week and yet it feels effortless. By maintaining a strong sense of comedy throughout the episode until these moments, Kidding manages to bypass any unease that is usually associated with tonal shifts. It works because both the comedy and dramatic elements are so strong. For example Dee and Scott’s conversation about Scott’s sexuality, referring to it as Maddie’s chosen form of instrument is a delight, as is Pickles-san’s follow-up shadow puppet show for Dee which gives her advice on her marriage (only for Scott to walk in and find one of the puppets is held up by his erection). As the episode closes, Jeff pays off all of Vivian’s debt – he’s still a good man at heart – but it’s his last act of kindness before he self-destructs, destroying his office and aiming at the idolised version of himself that sits staring at him on the television screen. Whilst we’ve seen Jeff destroy things before, it was always to gain something- here it’s purely him lashing out. Carrey goes dark behind the eyes every time he commits a vulgar act, and I think we’re all left wondering if this time his anger’s going to stay for a while.
Only three episodes left after all…