Divorce brings out the cruelty of people, and whilst the fallout from Dee and Scott’s divorce might have finally allowed Dee to see her self-worth, it’s come at the cost of Jeff’s true friends. We’re in war-torn Croatia, 1991 for Kidding’s cold open as two children traverse the battlegrounds for shelter. A group of refugee kids are gathered around an old television set whilst, you guessed it, Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time plays. Bullets thunder outside and the audio is cut off, forcing young Josip to voice Mr. Pickles for all of his friends as he sings about the importance of true friends. Then the worst happens. A bomb collapses the ceiling and kills Josip’s friend, crushing him under debris. It’s a poignant reminder of how the escapism of television can provide unity in the feeling of safety, and how those characters we grow up watching, even if they’re fictional, are some of the most important relationships imaginable.
Cut to present day however and it’s revealed Josip is actually the Jeff Piccirillo sound-alike Seb was going to source the animated Puppet Time series too. He gets in touch with Jeff via his listen-to-me Pickles doll and tells him he’s got a friend, even if it’s far away. Even if Josip is now in a shady line of work. In my recap for ‘I’m Listening’ I believed that the release of Jeff’s new doll would be a central narrative to the second season of Dave Holstein’s show, and whilst it’s still touched on here in the opening, it’s instead used as a platform to strengthen some of the emotional moments through poignant dialogue. As Jim Carrey’s Jeff advertises the doll on The Talk his ethics are briefly questioned, and his answer is complicated to say the least.
“They [the parents] don’t seem to mind giving their children smartphones with access to pornography and livestream school shootings” – Jeff ‘Pickles’ Piccirillo.
It’s a convoluted point of view from someone who doesn’t fully understand the current technological landscape but hey, the man’s a worldwide icon. It’s difficult to go through an episode of Kidding without praising Carrey’s work. Even as Jeff recounts missing his Puppet Time companions he’s on the verge of tears, and there’s a genuine sense that he sees friendship in these fictional characters because of his absence of them in real life. At least, for now anyway.
Because of his refusal to take painkillers after his surgery Jeff is prescribed medicinal marijuana, and asks Peter to help him collect it and try it. What starts as an awkward lunch date as the two eat cereal in Jeff’s empty second-home quickly flourishes as the two get to know one another. Who would have thought the boyfriend of his ex-wife, the one he hit with his car at the end of season one, would end up being his only friend? Of course it’s not all smooth sailing. Peter still rightfully holds judgement over Jeff as he talks about having to learn how to walk again, and Justin Kirk is simultaneously welcoming and cold, switching between the two at just the right moments. It’s enough to keep Jeff holding on for possible friendship.
Elsewhere it’s Dee’s time to shine as she switches on her ruthless business mode in a meeting with an Amazon executive (Eric Roberts) about bringing Puppet Time back on the air. Whatever reservations he has about Jeff’s notable behaviour becomes background noise to Catherine Keener’s brutality as she lists off her terms. She might still have a glue-sniffing problem but she knows how to get things done.
‘I Wonder What Grass Tastes Like’ emphasises the comedy chops of Jim Carrey and Justin Kirk as a duo. From Peter’s heartfelt apology about offering Jeff a joint to Jeff’s immediate request for weed afterwards, their trip together to collect his medicine makes them an unlikely duo but a very welcome one. Mae Whitman guest stars as Chloe the weed vendor, and offers up the epiphany to Jeff that most people who watch Puppet Time are high, right before confessing her abandonment issues to him. Jeff has this remarkable ability that allows people to confess their feelings to him, often at inopportune times. And whilst the revelation that his Puppet Time characters are actually symptoms of certain lifestyles may be news to him it’s a whole bucket of truth for much of his audience.
“The hardest part of parenting is sending your kid down the river of life and being both on the journey but unable to steer the ship” – Chloe.
Jeff refuses to smoke, so opts for a drinkable tea and requests Peter joins him. This leads to a delightful back and forth between the two which allows writer Hilary Weisman Graham the chance to stretch her comedic legs. We learn that both men are having erectile issues as Jeff also confesses losing his virginity to acting legend Julie Andrews. Mr. Pickles and Mary Poppins, who would’ve thought? When Jill interrupts the two of them bonding like naughty school children she simply scowls and whilst I’m sad that Judy Greer isn’t being given much to work with, I wouldn’t want it to come between these two grown adult men who decide that going up an elevator in a tall building will rush their blood to their genitals and solve their erection problems. No. No, they’re not high at all. The childish glee in which Jeff eagerly wants to try this experiment ‘for science’ is contagious. Director Kimberly Peirce is perhaps given the short end of the stick with two of the least visually-arresting episodes of Kidding, yet manages to make them flourish in their smaller moments. The elevator rising up off the ground like a rocket ship as the two men achieve… a rush (well, Peter has to help Jeff by reminding him of The Sound of Music) is a lovely piece of visual comedy. Plus we’re reminded that Jeff still uses sock puppets to pleasure himself so… swings and roundabouts.
But whilst they’re having fun, Frank Langella’s Seb is a silent mess. He’s eating the middle segments of a loaf of bread before going to watch his daughter accept an award for ‘philanthropist of the year’ despite knowing she doesn’t deserve it. At least they’ve spelt her name wrong on the trophy. Dee’s passionless acceptance speech is cut off too, resulting in one of the episode’s funniest moments, yet it’s the approval of her father that she still pines for. Even as her own daughter Maddy (Juliet Morris) continuously references her glue problem, she’s still eager to make herself the good guy. Also the gag that Dee’s hands keep sticking to things because of the glue is genius.
“I just won an award and a bunch of poor kids got Chromebooks” – Dee Piccirillo.
Meanwhile Jeff and Josip get into contact via the doll, and Jeff confesses that he’s worried about signing the divorce papers because it feels like he’ll be losing his truest friend, one that he’s been with for years. Josip offers to call her (from Croatia? Isn’t that expensive?) and tell her that Jeff wants her to be there when he signs them. Could this be a neat little way for Jeff to avoid difficult situations? I mean there’s more than a few pluses to having an exact soundalike.
And that’s not all, Amazon agrees to Dee’s terms and Puppet Time is back! Full creative control and free viewership to kids around the globe. But, as Jeff takes joy in unravelling all of the friends he’s missed from their boxes, we learn that their reunion is short lived as Dee’s divorce mediation takes place. Scott (Bernard White – now openly gay to sway more court opinions) gets half of her assets, which includes the rights to Puppet Time characters. The moment Dee learns how much she’s worth she loses them, and by proxy, so does Jeff. Whilst Scott’s never been an unlikable character, this action seems outright detestable. But still, Dee’s actions have all led to this, and we don’t know what the fallout will be. What will he use the characters for? How will Puppet Time survive without Snagglehorse, Thump-Thump, Oops and the rest? I don’t know, but I’m sure that Jeff’s not going to take the news well…