This Kidding review contains spoilers.
Kidding Episode 1
“The show can’t change, you can’t change.”
Frank Langella’s Seb Piccirillo tells his son, Jeff Pickles, played by rubber-faced comedy royalty Jim Carrey, when he wants to use his successful, long-running children’s show to broach the topic of death. I’m sure Carrey has been told similar things multiple times throughout his career, like when he darkened up his image in the black comedy The Cable Guy or went completely method to channel Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon. When you’re a bankable, marquee name it can be difficult managing handler and audience expectations when you want to take a risk doing something different, or in Pickle’s case, something he feels compelled to do for the sake of his sanity.
Kidding, the new Showtime series from Dave Holstein and director Michel Gondry, gets a ton of mileage out of expectations, mainly those formed about its star Carrey. Carrey may not be Mr. Rogers in real-life, but his movies were so formative for people of a certain age that he carries that same comforting and familiar vibe. At the same time, Carrey’s recent erratic, existential behavior, coming after the death of his ex-girlfriend Cathriona White, and his low output in the past few years has had many in the media speculating about the actor’s mental state. It can be difficult for fans to hear Ace Ventura give interviews about how he’s realized that he “doesn’t exist” or watch as he transitions into being something of a political cartoonist. Jeff and Jim, clearly with some sadness behind their eyes, are both trying to deliver things to audiences that may just want the old routine.
Gondry is quite adept at using Carrey’s real-life issues to make transcendent art. Their last collaboration, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is one of the best films of the 21st century and features a lovelorn, tender performance by Carrey, who was inspired by Gondry to stay in the headspace of a recent break-up that the actor suffered before filming. Like Sunshine, Kidding appears like it will feature Gondry’s kitschy visual style, especially with the use of the puppets on Pickles’ TV show.
The show, filmed on a small set in Columbus, Ohio, is executive produced by Jeff’s Dad, Seb, and features the puppeteering of his sister Deirdre, played by Catherine Keener. Though it’s a family affair at work, Jeff lives alone in a small apartment after being asked to leave the house by his ex-wife following the death of their preteen son, Phil. It’s been a year since Phil’s passing and Jeff’s wife, Jill (Judy Greer) is still “processing” as Jeff likes to say, while their other son, Phil’s twin brother Will, begins acting out and becoming more like his departed brother. At the same time, Deirdre is facing her own issues at home parenting her child with her closeted husband. From the looks of this pilot, the family ensemble aspect of the show looks similar to past Showtime dramedies like The United States of Tara.
Most of the laughs in the episode are supplied by Langella, who’s blunt, no nonsense demeanor supplies most of the “black comedy,” as well as a running gag about the smell coming from one of the show’s puppets. Jeff’s naivety is also supposed to be funny, but it comes across as a bit unbelievable. However, Carrey is fantastic as Pickles, bringing more than a touch of his Andy Kaufman impersonation to the part and a lived-in woundedness that makes you want to protect him even as he creepily buys the house next door to his ex-wife to keep an eye on her. As pilots go, “Green Means Go” is effective at introducing are characters and is more emotionally charged than most. Seb says that Jeff can’t change, but by episode end he’s already proving him wrong, at least physically. Extreme circumstances can breed transformation, and Kidding looks ready to teach that to us like we’re one of the kids in Jeff’s studio audience.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.