It’s 1993. Maestro Pimento Fermata from Puppet Time has a brand-new cereal out, ‘Best Os’ that come with singing, vibrating pickles for the pickle chorus! Cue the riot of mothers rushing out to buy their kids cereal boxes – it’s mass hysteria like the Black Friday sales but not for an obvious reason. As a child groans over the lack of pickle toy in his cereal whilst his mother is busy in the bathroom, we’re very quickly made aware the true reason of the cereal’s popularity. After all, as the advertisement says, “It’s the cereal that makes you say ‘Oh!’”
Kidding has always had fun playing with overt sexual references, and Seb’s worries from earlier this season come from experience it turns out. After all, for the price of a cereal box you can’t go wrong. But with Jeff still missing after the events of ‘The Death of Fil’, Dee ends up reliving 1993 after purchasing an old box off of eBay and ends up losing the proverbial pickle inside… well, herself. Catherine Keener’s Dee has slowly been building to an incorrigible and nasty piece of work. She’s bitter (not without reason) and close to crumbling under the pressure, and this all builds to an awards show where Jeff is about to receive a lifetime achievement award. But where is he? Young Maddie (Juliet Morris) wonders if her uncle’s finally killed himself.
“Maddie, that is insanely inappropriate. Now go play with your axe” – Seb Piccirillo.
Whilst Dave Holstein’s show has always tapped into a distinct dreamlike quality, the tension between that and reality seem more frayed than ever this week. We’re seemingly thrust back to 1960, where Jeff is a barman going by Larry, downing shots whilst his elderly adoring public debate Kennedy and Nixon. Directors Bert & Bertie use our confusion to their advantage, staging the scene as a glimpse into a life that could have been. Jeff is different, confident, and he was a sniper in Korea during the war (which would thrill Will’s friends).
But this is a fantasy, and behind the bar we’re shown the elaborate ‘memory care’ centre for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Cornell (a subdued but rather brilliant Tyler the Creator) offers Jeff an enlarged role playing out patient’s fantasies, allowing him to be the object of their love and desire. It’s all Jeff could really hope for and it’s a blissful escape from the abusive texts from the other Mr. Pickles’. Of course Jeff would want to brush off his responsibilities here, there’s a distinct feeling that the people here need him more than his actual family. When the opportunity to portray an elderly man’s father crops up, Jeff jumps at the chance. And when the gentleman tells him ‘you’re a good dad’ it’s astounding how much it hits Jeff. It should go without saying that Jim Carrey continues to nail the tightrope walk between comedy and melancholy.
Whilst Dee attends the awards ceremony (with her pickle), Seb (Frank Langella) and Maddie take an emergency trip to the hospital. Seb’s suffered a minor stroke and whilst he brushes it off with the familiar ease of a mafia don there’s the underlying feeling that something isn’t right. For one, he can’t shake the feeling that his ex-wife, Jeff and Dee’s mom, is in the hospital with him. Seb’s relationship with his grandkids is infinitely more enjoyable than his own children, Maddie’s demented sense of humour hides a subtle emotional maturity and she takes everything in stride, whilst Langella’s Seb uses this small health scare to work up the chance to talk to the woman he believes to be his ex.
“Reality is the disease. The Fantasy is the pill” – Cornell.
Only… it is her. The spitting image. And what’s stranger still is at the same time, Jeff encounters his mom at the centre’s fake bus stop for patients who want to leave. This entire fake 1960 world is dense enough to set an entire show in, and the montage of lives Jeff leads allows writer Michael Vukadinovich to stretch his emotional muscles. At first we think this is just another role when Jeff greets the woman with ‘hi mom’ but the reality of the situation is far sadder. She’s waiting for the bus to take her to Niagara Falls. Away from Seb, him and Dee. Jeff laments that he wishes he could go with her, and she tells him that he can always choose to escape from his life. Despite growing through the season Jeff is still emotionally fragile, and the stability of this whole interaction makes me wonder whether Kidding is going to break our hearts. Whilst out for a meal with his apparent ex-wife, Seb is left alone whilst she goes to the… men’s room. Suddenly she’s replaced with a friendly looking young man, just like the roles Jeff is now taking in the memory centre. Has Seb’s memory turned against him? Where does this leave Maddie, who attended his hospital appointment with him? Are either versions of this woman real at all? Or are the Piccirillos so broken that they’ve taken Cornell’s pill to escape permanently?
It’s not all doom and gloom however, as Kidding’s outrageous comedy remains intact when the singing vibrating pickle goes off inside Deirdre during a moment of silence for the deceased Filipino Pickles. She hastily runs to the bathroom and begs Jill for help, who reluctantly agrees. Through the most uncomfortable of situations we hastily learn that Jill said she needed time when Peter proposed last week, something that will no doubt please Jeff to learn. This comes at the expense of Dee’s continued tirade against all the men in her life, from Jeff to Seb to Scott, all of whom she blames for her stress and problems. It’s cathartic in the most childish sense, and it’s only Jill’s sobering opinion of it being her own fault (well, except for Filipino Pickles’ death) that leads to her self-realisation. She’s in a constant state of screwing herself over (literally here too). And the truth sets her embedded pickle free.
“If you want out, you just have to get on the bus. And the bus always shows up” – Jeff’s mom.
Whether or not she’s real, Jeff feels the same catharsis from his mother at the bus stop. He’s so comfortable in this alternate 1960 because, technically, he doesn’t exist yet. Mr. Pickles doesn’t exist yet. And he has to choose between reality and fantasy… but first he has to decide which is which. As he narrowly avoids Jill on the way to giving his speech (and his speeches always go down super well), he contemplates between his career and his family. One of which is fictional. This of course makes it the perfect punchline to show the empty row of seats for his family members during the show.
Loads of pieces are moving together hastily through this season of Kidding, and the emotional ramifications could have a huge impact on the show’s future. With the quality so far, I have no doubt that the show will be able to stick the landing too.