Jim Carrey in a still from <i>Kidding</i>.

Jim Carrey’s Return to TV in ‘Kidding’ Is Warm and Heartbreaking

Jim Carrey reunites with his ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ director.

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Jim Carrey’s Return to TV in ‘Kidding’ Is Warm and Heartbreaking

The last time Jim Carrey worked with Michel Gondry, it resulted in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, one of my favourite films. So of course, the expectations were sky-high, when 14 years after that movie, the two have teamed up once again for Carrey's first starring role on TV in almost 25 years.

Arguably though, Carrey hasn't been in the greatest of form. His last good performance would be I Love You, Philip Morris (2009). Since then, he's been fine doing bit roles and critiquing Donald Trump on Twitter.

Fortunately, all that is in the past when it comes to ‘Kidding’. Jim Carrey is as heartbreaking and warm as he has ever been, and Michel Gondry brings his astute inventiveness to the small screen intact.

Based off Dave Holstein's story (who is also the showrunner), Kidding follows Carrey's Jeff Piccirillo aka Mr. Pickles, a Mr. Rogers-esque character whose affable personality, sweet songwriting ability, easygoing knack with puppets and positive demeanour have made him a hit with children in the last thirty years. However, this isn't a story of a mask coming off and Mr. Pickles suddenly breaking bad. Jeff (and not Mr. Pickles, note the distinction) is genuinely the nicest person you'll ever meet.

When one of his twin sons, Will (Cole Allen), dies in an accident and his wife, Jill (Judy Greer), is estranged as a result, Jeff unravels. He hasn't ever had to deal with grief and emptiness. His other son, Phil (also Cole Allen), is slowly tiring of his father's increasingly irritable advice and growing further apart.

Like any good artist, Jeff wants to reflect what he is going through in what he does. He somehow convinces the show's big honcho, Sebastian (Frank Langella), to shoot an episode about death.

A still from <i>Kidding</i>.
A still from Kidding.
“Kids know the sky is blue. They need to know what to do when it’s falling.”

However, Sebastian understands the need to maintain a carefully cultivated image and brand, take care of merchandise sales and not let down the producers. Sebastian has to do all this while also at times providing a shoulder of support to Jeff, because Jeff is his son.

Turns out Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time is a family-run business. The show's lead puppeteer is Deirdre (Catherine Keener), Jeff's sister, who has problems of her own to deal with: a crumbling marriage with her probably closeted husband as well as their child, Maddy (Juliet Morris), who senses something is wrong.*

A still from <i>Kidding</i>.
A still from Kidding.

*Jeff is right about wanting to tackle headier topics on Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time; the children in the family, Phil and Maddy, show time and again that they sense when something is awry and find their own ways to deal with it when their parents don’t give them the support they need. While Phil finds recourse in smoking up with his new-found friends, Maddy has to take up the clarinet instead of the piano she loves and then reverts to a childhood affliction of displaying anxiety by throwing her hands up in the air and screaming erratically.

Grief is a tough emotion to depict and while visually Kidding is up to it, the writing takes time to get to its mark. It takes a while for Carrey to show agency in being responsible for himself. Of course, that's also the catch-22 the show finds itself in, because any faster and the grieving process might not come across as sincere enough. By the fourth episode though, the show hits its stride and puts all its cards on the table.

The show is of course helped by its ingenuity in staging scenes too. Gondry is the weaver of dreams and here too he brings his top game.

A late sequence in episode six involving Jeff putting on a puppet show for one woman, Vivian (Ginger Gonzaga), strides the line between fantasy and reality so well; it's a beautiful sequence with solid work by the puppetry and music teams as well as the primary actors in the scene.

The standout sequence in the show though comes in an episode directed by Jake Schreier, even though the scene, a single-take, has Gondry's fingerprints all over it.

A still from <i>Kidding</i>.
A still from Kidding.

(Remember the scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when Jim Carrey runs into different rooms in his dreams stumbling into his memories? That scene is special because it's Gondry was adamant on shooting practically on a stage set. Carrey notoriously blew his fuse during the shoot.)

Here, Carrey is involved indirectly. The sequence shows how a woman, Shaina (Riki Lindhome), turns her shabby life around, thanks to Mr. Pickles. The camera moves around a small room, coming back and again to the TV screening Carrey's Mr. Pickles, even as the room and Shaina metamorphose around it. Just look at it! It's bravura television.

All actors give their best (and with that bench, it’s expected). He’s been serious before in ‘Man On The Moon’, ‘The Truman Show’ and the aforementioned ‘Eternal Sunshine’, but he doesn’t phone it in. His charm genuinely makes Mr. Pickles likeable and Jeff that much more believable.

Catherine Keener is a gem as always and breaks us with her exasperation while Frank Langella is perfect at spewing venom and being heartfelt at the same time; Sebastian’s a meaner, yet as genial version of his character from The Americans. Judy Greer though doesn’t get much to do (at least in the first six episodes).

Holstein has said that the show is about the duality of man. A person affected by grief is not the same person ever again.

By episode 6, Jeff has moved closer to not being a doll puppeteered by his own father. Midway through the episode, he tells him, “People who are older than me question what I say. People who are younger listen to what I tell them. That means every day, I get a little bit more powerful and you get a little older.” It’s not a line the Jeff of episode 1 would even imagine uttering.

A person affected by grief can find it utterly relieving too. For Jeff, it’s a relief to be his own self. He isn’t kidding around anymore.

P.S.: The short title credits at the beginning of each episode are a treat, using the impeccable craftwork omnipresent throughout the show.

This review is based on the first six episodes of season 1. Kidding is now streaming on Hotstar.

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