Jim Carrey's 'Kidding' Tries Its Best to Figure Everything Out

(image: poster excerpt)

Showtime's Kidding, starring Jim Carrey, asks viewers, "What if Mr. Rogers was coming unglued and didn't have all the answers to his or anyone else's problems?"

Dave Holstein




What if Mr. Rogers, beloved children's television entertainer and educator, had a breakdown? And not just any breakdown, what if it was a complete and ongoing fiasco, one that involved trauma, grief, and even a romantic break-up? If there's any tension to be found in watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood as an adult, it's in seeing this clean-cut almost impossibly nice man express positive messages to kids while wondering: is this guy crazy?

In Showtime's Kidding, this is the central question, more or less (though it's mostly more). Jim Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, a famous and revered children's TV entertainer. He's every kid's guiding light and comforting shoulder, a regular beacon of stability; he's also recently lost a son in a car accident and separated from his wife. He's trying to find meaning in a suddenly unfathomable universe. So there again, tension: what if Mr. Rogers was coming unglued and didn't have all the answers to his or anyone else's problems? The first season of Kidding sets out to push its protagonist as far as it can towards just such an answer. After ten episodes, it doesn't quite manage it—though not from lack of trying.

Seasoned by years of writing for Weeds, creator Dave Holstein has a feel for the dichotomy between a person's outer presentation of self and their conflicted inner life. In Kidding that division is made easy: there's Mr. Pickles, and then there's Jeff. Left to manage both halves is the Pickles family, including Jeff's stern father Seb (Frank Langella), his strained sister Deirdre (Catherine Keener), his soon-to-be ex-wife Jill (Judy Greer), and his son who lived, twin Will (Cole Allen). In turn, each of these characters (and still others) are dealing with their own issues—in their home and work lives, in their relationships to each other, in their own identities.

To animate its approach, Kidding leans on the creative presence of director Michel Gondry, director of six episodes, if for no other reason than to allow him his usual cinematic flourishes. The children's show-within-a-show here, Mr. Pickles Puppet Time, lends itself well to Gondry's particular brand of yarn-and-felt aesthetic, with an army of puppets (including a talking baguette) on hand to do some of the emotional heavy-lifting. While the results are often uneven, the show grants Gondry the freedom to veer sharply between comedy, drama, romance, and the absurd.

Gifted with a cast of talented actors, meanwhile, Holstein and his writers unleash Kidding in all sorts of unusual directions too. Langella, the surly standout, provides a dry underlining presence as the father trying to do right by his son (and his TV empire); Keener inhabits the vulnerability of failure as the less talented Pickles sibling (with her own crumbling family); Greer gets a few chances to punch past the usual nagging wife archetype (though just barely); and relative newcomer Allen holds his own, even capably playing both sons, Phil and Will, in different moments. They bring to life people you wouldn't normally find in Mr. Rogers' neighbourhood.

Jim Carrey as Jeff / Mr. Pickels (source: IMDB)

And then there's Carrey, the show's natural anchor. His Mr. Pickles is a man at odds with himself—and at times with Kidding itself. He's asked to sing and use puppets, to rage and shed tears, to express passion and remain calm. If nothing else the show reminds us that a fully engaged Carrey still has plenty to offer as a nervy performer. As with his best work, it's impossible to envision anyone else in the role. It's not easy threading that Mr. Rogers needle, to present both the exterior and interior lives of a complicated man—especially one coming apart at the seams—and yet Carrey makes it go. Kidding doesn't always have something useful for him to do, but without him, there's no show.

Centring on Mr. Pickles' pain, Kidding becomes a show about a man whose celebrity, cultural stature, and financial security are unlikely to disappear, and yet he's still unhappy. It's not hard to see what drew Carrey to the role in the first place, given the parallels in his own life and career. For his first serious return to television in over 25 years, he picked a challenging role, one that has him pitching through all sorts of emotional tenors, working with great actors, and reuniting with Gondry, who directed him through one of his more noteworthy performances. Carrey's heart, along with that of the show, definitely feels like it's in the right place.

Louis Ozawa Changchien as Mr. Pickles-San (source: IMDB)

But a handful of punchlines and visual leaps aside, Kidding is not nearly as inventive as it would have us believe—or profound as it thinks it is. Sure, Tara Lipinski appears as a bizarre version of herself, the filmmaking technique on display is often laudable, there's a Japanese man (Louis Ozawa Changchien as Mr. Pickles-San) who can speak English only through a puppet, and so on; the expected quirk factor is there. Its summation, however, amounts more to easy aphorisms than a difficult emotional reckoning. The show's inability to settle on any one tone, by fractured design or not, doesn't help. It gives us unending reasons as to why poor Mr. Pickles is coming apart, answering the aforementioned "crazy" question early and often. Yet the trials and tribulations of Jeff and his family eventually force us to ask something else: why should we care?





Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" Calls Out from the Past

Laura Nyro, a witchy, queer, ethnic Russian Jew, died young, but her non-conformist anthem, "Save the Country", carries forth to these troubled times.


Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.


'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.


IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".


Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.


Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.


Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.