And we’re back! It’s been a hot minute since Dave Holstein’s Kidding left viewers with the shattered portrait of a man on the edge in the form of Jim Carrey’s Jeff Pickles. And whilst season one laid down a strong base, it narrowly avoided the cusps of greatness thanks to some inconsistencies with tone and writing. If season two’s opener is anything to go by, that may not be an issue anymore.
“Only use a bad word when no good word will do.” – Jeff ‘Pickles’ Piccirillo
As the quote above proves, Jeff has changed. After purposefully hitting his ex Jill’s (Judy Greer) boyfriend Peter (Justin Kirk) with his car, we’re left with the solitary image of Carrey’s broken image against a shattered windscreen. His lashing out has taken him too far, and this is something he might not be able to come back from. It’s the perfect time to escape away to happier memories, and director Jake Schreier implements flashbacks through Jeff’s life that circle modern actions perfectly.
From the episode’s hand-crafted titles we’re shown Jeff and Jill’s wedding in 2003, a quaint ceremony surrounded by all the characters from ‘Puppet Time’ to boot. It’s a simpler time, one where Jill adores her husband and vice versa as Jeff drinks champagne for the ceremony (the last time he touches alcohol in his life, as per the episode’s title) before stamping the glass out to a crowd of well-wishers. It’s this smash that brings us back to the incident.
It feels like Kidding has changed. Everything has been raised from tonal consistency (this episode handles the tension and darkness with a delicate and macabre touch deftly) to the performances. Carrey was no slouch last season but even his expressions in these opening moments are haunting. A man simultaneously horrified at his own actions whilst fighting the guilt to own up to them. A timely call from the Pickles Platoon of children to wish him Merry Christmas manages to bring him back to the moment, but isn’t enough to get him to confess.
He tells Jill that Peter was on drugs and walked out into traffic, and the two haphazardly rush him to the hospital using a toboggan as a gurney. All of this happens against the backdrop of partied-out teenagers that have broken into Jeff’s secret second home next to Jill, and culminates in a perfectly-placed screeched from Carrey at them not to do drugs before speeding off. It’s this kind of balance that already makes such a huge difference in terms of quality. Of course the comedy button is hit once again as Jeff hits someone else, but it just turns out to be a Christmas decoration. But hey, this one was an accident at least…
Schreier morphs the panicked drive to the hospital with another flashback as Jeff drives a pregnant Jill to the hospital. The contrast and similarities between these events are startling; Jeff’s trying so hard to frame this tragedy as a positive that it actually starts to work. Meanwhile their son Will (Cole Allen) is immediately dumped by his first kiss and scorns his dad as his high friends drive him down to the hospital. Will’s in a difficult position here, neither here nor there in regards to Jeff, and kudos to Cole Allen for keeping him restrained and knowing to keep to the side-lines for the episode even though he has the information that will destroy Jeff’s goal of winning back Jill.
In the hospital Jill goes off with Peter whilst Jeff phones his sister, Dierdre (‘Dee’ – Catherine Keener) who’s in the middle of a demented-version of a conversation where her and her gay husband Scott (Bernard White) are telling their daughter Maddy (Juliet Morris) about their oncoming divorce. Of course, Scott’s bombarding their daughter with worrying gifts (an axe… which the troubled Maddy loves) whilst Dee gives up and just flat out tells her upon hearing Jeff’s news. It’s a good thing Maddy takes over from her mother/uncle and is emotionally stunted enough to not care.
Dee makes her way to the hospital and, upon hearing Jeff’s confession, takes on the role of the devil on his shoulder. She framed his heinous act positively “you did what you had to to get between your son and drugs” and even tells him he doesn’t need to worry if Peter dies. I hope we get to explore this darker side of Dee more this season, the one who hides away money and has a growing sociopathic nature, it’ll be interesting to see the interactions with her and Jeff moving forward.
“Under no circumstances should you tell her what you did, or anyone.” – Deirdre ‘Dee’ Piccirillo
Jeff doesn’t know how to lie, so his admission seems imminent… but he knows how to keep a secret. Jill says she’s sorry if this has ruined his Christmas and the two embrace which stifles his initial confession. Will’s unable to hide the happiness at seeing his parents together and Jeff seems to actually get what he’s wanted since the start of the show… he’s got his family back. It even lasts for a little while longer as they’re sent home and Jill asks him to stay the night on the sofa for Christmas morning.
Of course, Jeff being Jeff, he overdoes things and prepares a luxurious Christmas morning filled with cakes, hot chocolate and presents (he didn’t have time to buy anything so he just wrapped stuff around the house) and for a brief period there’s a quiet happiness at the life of a family that doesn’t exist anymore. The quiet understanding between Jeff and Will is mutually assured, and the two’s chemistry has lost none of their spark since we last saw them together. I feel as though despite his rebellious and anarchistic tendencies to burn everything down, he really just wants his family to be happy. Talk about wanting the impossible.
A phone call from the hospital disturbs the merriment however, and we learn that Peter needs a liver transplant to survive. It’s a good thing his Mormon family is here to offer up a… oh, they’ve been secretly drinking? Nevermind them. Jeff is a universal donor however, and the conflict as he learns of all his options dwindling away is panic-inducing to say the least and requires a moment of introspection – the moment in which Jeff decides to admit to his actions.
“Peter didn’t walk out into traffic. I… fucked up.” – Jeff ‘Pickles’ Piccirillo
Whilst we aren’t shown the fallout of this reveal, we’re ushered into the operating room where Jeff awaits his surgery – but is this an act of altruism or to ease his own guilty conscience? Before we sign off, his phone rings again as another branch of the Pickles Platoon calls to wish him Merry Christmas. One lucky boy, Noah has the pleasure of wishing him it personally, and Jeff asks him if he’s been a good boy this year to which Noah responds with a haunting ‘Have you?’. Haunting, and if this is a sign of things to come then I think Kidding’s going to rightfully take its place as one of the most compassionate and exhilarating shows on television.