He’s Kidding, But He’s Still In Pain

Jim Carrey’s Surreal Return to TV

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Yeah, I’ll be his neighbor

In 2004, Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry collaborated on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a whirling, surrealistic comedy about a man so broken-hearted about the breakup with his girlfriend, he decides to literally have her erased from his memory. A whimsical journey, Carrey reached levels of depth that even fans of his work in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon had to be amazed by. Now, nearly fifteen years later, Carrey and Gondry have reunited to work in Showtime’s latest dramedy, Kidding, a collaboration with writer David Holstein. And even for a network that has been one of the more boundary pushing ones this past decade, this is even further outside their comfort zone then you’d think.

Carrey plays Mr. Pickles, aka Jeff Piccoli, a children’s show host who is the star of Mr. Pickles World, a PBS show that has been running for nearly thirty years. As close to Mr. Rogers as we get, he takes children through a world of fantasy and has established a persona so truly beloved that Danny Trejo practically becomes girlish in front of him, and that when his car is jacked, the chop shop people return when they find out whose it is. He doesn’t seem to have a truly mean-spirited bone in his body, but in reality Jeff’s world is in freefall. Last year, his wife Jill (Judy Greer) was driving her sons to school, and they were broadsided by a truck. Phil, one of his twins died immediately. He’s been separated from Jill ever since, and Will, the son who was left behind has been deteriorating.

Jeff is one of those people who internalizes his grief, and only occasionally, such as when he rips the head of a faucet or shaves his head, does he lash out. What he wants to do is share his emotions with the world. And that is something that his father Sebastian (Frank Langella, brilliant as always) will not let him do. Sebastian is in charge of Jeff’s TV series, and repeatedly acts more like a boss than a father. “Jeff needs to heal. Mr. Pickles is fine.” Jeff’s acts of rebellion include trying to do a show on death, which is filmed but refuses to air, and often seems more concern with keeping everything the same rather than letting any bits of change come through. There’s untold volumes in their relationship.

Jim Carrey was arguably, the biggest sensation of the 1990s. He’s undergone a fair amount of trauma over the past few years, and one could definitely see why this role, more than anything else, would lure him back to acting. Jeff is that rarest of things, not only on Showtime, but almost all Peak TV, a genuinely good man who is going through pain. Those who come to Kidding to see Carrey’s rubbery face antics will get some pleasure out of that, but so will those who liked many of his dramatic performances. After so many series where we see ruthless antiheroes, its almost refreshing to see a show with a kind but broken person behind it.

It’s not entirely perfect. While most of the children’s television antics are done very well, there have been scenes of naughty things going on with puppets that could turn people off. And while I’m glad to see Catherine Keener, one of the great actresses of our time getting a role as Jeff’s sister/puppeteer, so far her major work has been dealing with the fact that her husband is having an affair with another man, which was old ten years ago. But Kidding has a wistfulness and cheerfulness to it that is refreshing after so many series where every protagonist is a profane heel. It’s nice to have a central character who doesn’t like when other people swear — odd for cable, but nice all the same.

My score: 4 stars.

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After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.

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