Jim Carrey’s return to the TV screen, a return that pairs him with the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has certainly has piqued our interest, but will Kidding live up to those high expectations?
This is a black comedy drama series following the iconic “Mr Pickles” (Jim Carrey). For decades his TV show has been an essential part of edutainment for kids across America, but in his real life he is suffering personal tragedy. Separated from his wife after the death of one of their children, and struggling to reconnect with his remaining son, Jeff has retreated more and more into the wholesome persona he’s created for TV. Yet it is clear that there are cracks emerging in that mask, and his family and production team begin to worry about what that could mean, both to Jeff, and to the multi-million dollar market that he has inspired.
The centerpiece to Kidding is Carrey’s performance. It really is one of those inspired choices where role and actor meet, clearer than a painting of a weeping clown on black velvet. Carrey is obviously able to draw upon his own battle with mental health issues for the role, bringing a raw honesty to his acting. Jeff Pickles is a clown, a genuinely nice and funny guy, innocent, perhaps even naive (after all, he struggles to realise the significance of P in Danny Trejo’s “P-hound” necklace) – but he is also breaking under the weight of expectations and the cognitive dissonance between his view and that of how the world works. He is an open wound, and the bright kiddie-friendly band-aid placed over this is absolutely insufficient. The result is touching, at times heartbreaking, and at others tense – as you wait for that repressed emotion to be vented explosively.
Yet it is also those that Jeff is reflected in that make this series. From his brutally honest and cynical father (masterfully played with a Sahara like dryness of wit by Frank Langella), his oft time more worldly son (Cole Allen), to his floundering sister (Catherine Keener). These interactions show how Jeff can shape the world, and how those who love him are concerned. It provides a canvas upon which Carrey can create.
Director Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep) sets Dave Holstein’s (Weeds) series in good stead with his work on the initial episodes. Here his sense of whimsy is palpable but never overwhelming, kept at bay by the darkness lurking below the surface. That dichotomy is compelling. We can be swept along in the magic of a sequence, such as the long tracking shot of Mr. Pickles following his wife’s movements (step for step) in the house opposite his – while at the same time registering how deeply wrong his stalking is!
All of which demonstrates the strength of Kidding. Four episodes in, and I’m not sure where it is going to go. Is it going to be a tale of an honest man changing the world through his integrity, or a good man broken by a cruel world? To be clear the show has done an excellent job of establishing its world and premiss (Langella eloquently spells it out in the first episode), but Kidding has also shown that it is willing to subvert those expectations. Whatever the case, it is obvious that Kidding is more than just a case of Bad Santa transcribed to Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood, but is showing its own fragile and tragic beauty.