Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time is back on the air! And what’s even better still is that I’ve got my biggest wish with Dave Holstein’s Kidding – this week we were treated to an entire episode of the show itself directed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind visionary Michel Gondry! Not only that, but it also happens to be the show’s defining episode, one that breaks from tradition and chooses to stand out as a landmark piece of televisual storytelling whilst also retaining the heart and soul of what the show stands for. There’s also some Ariana Grande packed in there too for good measure.
We begin in the small wood cabin at the top of Pickle Barrel Falls, as Jim Carrey’s Mr. Pickles saunters in amidst a welcome song ripped straight from Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood. He’s waiting with baited breath and balloons in his closet for his wife, Nurse Jill, to show up. But she’s running late, and when the ground shakes and catastrophe strikes Pickle Barrel Falls, Mr. Pickles can’t wait up and heads on down to help.
In the timeline of Kidding, the episode marks the return of production for the show and we’re instantly re-introduced to the Sesame Street style, blended with some of Michel Gondry’s camera trickery and stop-motion backdrops. Even the old assets are in play, as Mr. Pickles’ hair is still long on his travels down from the top of the Falls. From the other snippets of the show we’ve seen on Kidding, we can see that Jeff seems to be acting harder. His smile is wide and unflinching no matter what. It feels somewhat false compared to the honesty and pathos that’s come beforehand. It’s not long before we realise why…
“Balloons are a rainbow reminder that nothing is permanent” – Jeff ‘Pickles’ Piccirillo.
An earthquake has ravaged many of the homes of the residents, and after helping Snagglehorse escape from debris, Jeff introduces new character ‘DIY Deirdre’ to the show. She tells everyone that there’s been an un-gluing, and that she can help them as long as they believe and summon the help of Piccola Grande (Ariana Grande) – the Pickle Fairy of hope. A hefty musical number about ‘sticking together’ follows as the residents all fix their homes, and Gondry flexes his muscles with changing perspectives and masking shots to promote the surrealist nature of Puppet Time. Seeing Ariana Grande sing alongside Jim Carrey and Catherine Keener only adds to this, and Keener’s Dee is clearly uncomfortable in this vocally-taxing role. But she’s trying to fill the shoes of her father and prove him wrong, and for that she has to be a source of good for the show.
No matter how much the residents believe though, their houses still fall apart. DIY Deirdre’s glue just won’t stick. Even Enouii (the French talking baguette’s) home, the Trifle Tower (brilliant), built from French ingenuity falls to the ground. As melancholy slowly seeps into Puppet Time, it’s made abundantly clear why we’re seeing this episode. And as Jeff struggles to hide back some very real tears as Mr. Pickles, we’re only left to stay along for the ride as he can try and turn it into a life lesson. Enouii runs off in tears as Mr. Pickles runs to cheer him up, whilst the residents of Pickle Barrel Falls blame Dee and her ‘impotent adhesive’ for the destruction in a clear dig at her husband Scott, who’s taking half of the show’s characters in their divorce.
Dee’s solo musical number encapsulates the mature notion of things ending. Throughout she’s accompanied by stop-motion backdrops that add to the home-made feel of the show. Colourful visual metaphors litter the screen, too many to make note of, as the residents are shown what could be in the future. Meanwhile in the woods Enouii is pretending to be a tree in order to stay in Pickle Barrel Falls.
“Trees don’t have to leave. They can stay in Pickle Barrel Falls forever. They are rooted in the ground and they never change” – Enouii.
A softened Mr. Pickles tells him that’s not true, and shows him that trees can actually change and become many different things. From furniture, to tiny pianos, to even…divorce papers. Not only does this episode of Puppet Time deal with the departure of half the cast, but it also allows both Jeff and Deirdre to deal with their divorces in a way that they can accept. When Nurse Jill shows up, it’s heartbreaking to see Carrey’s Jeff light up despite knowing what it means. She’s following up on his request for her to be there and help him sign. The ensuing conversation and Jeff and Jill teach Enouii about why change isn’t always a bad thing is what Kidding does best. It takes the conversation of divorce around children and tailors it to the characters perfectly to the point where you struggle to keep yourself together when Enouii tries to destroy the divorce papers to keep the two of them together. I wonder how much of a hand Jeff had in the writing of the episode’s script. It’s one of the most touching moments the series has achieved so far, and a crowning achievement for all involved purely for emotionally devastating it seems. Jill and Jeff still care greatly for one another, and the fact Jill is willing to go through this all on camera shows that she understands his difficulties with accepting the real world. I hope we can all find someone willing to accept us like that someday.
The arrival of Hopscotch signals that it’s time to go, and Enouii launches into another song that convinces the residents of Pickle Barrel Falls it’s okay to move on into the ‘I Don’t Know’. From here on all of Jeff’s friends gather round as he goes to sign the papers, continuously chanting it’s ‘for the best’ despite it being a necessity. Even when Jeff’s heart can’t take it, Thump Thump the heart (voiced beautifully by Jane Carrey) bursts forth and takes hold of his pen, giving him the strength he didn’t have before. Jeff and Jill have had an un-gluing too, and he’s needed help to understand.
“I’m sorry the glue didn’t hold” – Jeff ‘Pickles’ Piccirillo.
Jeff then takes the batch of balloons from the start of the episode and hands them to each one of his friends one by one, as they float up Pickle Barrel Falls and leave the show, taking pieces of him with them. In keeping with the show’s child-friendly theme, each one of them goes off singing alongside Piccola Grande with hope for what lies ahead, but the expressions of the normally-spirited Mr. Pickles tell a completely different story. We’ve never seen the character grieve like this before, and to have so much of him taken away at once seems cruel and unfair, but that’s one of the lessons the episode tries to teach us.
As Jill is lifted away by Hopscotch, there’s an overwhelming sense of closure to the two’s marriage despite their continued love for one another. And as the credits for the episode begin to roll we channel surf, only to find Enouii being used as a crude mascot for a sleazy sandwich hut, much to the dismay of a watchful Jeff. ‘Episode 3101’ is surely to go down as a defining episode of Kidding which fully encapsulates the power of its emotional storytelling. It’s the kind of story I have been hoping for since the project was announced, with the show fulfilling its potential as a live-action counterpart to Bojack Horseman. There’s very few places where television is this nuanced, emotionally-resonant and comedic simultaneously, and long may Kidding continue.