Jim Carrey returns to television in the new Showtime series, KIDDING, which has thus far aired two episodes. Carrey plays Jeff, who is a very successful children’s television host known as Mr. Pickles. Sort of a Mr. Rogers-type with the marketing reach of Disney, Mr. Pickles is not just a person, he’s a brand. But when one of his twin sons dies in a tragic car accident and his family falls apart, Jeff fights with his boss to take the show a little darker and deal with his loss on-air.
Carrey is a fantastic actor who hasn’t always done projects worthy of his talent. KIDDING is not a dumb comedy by any stretch; it’s a smart, complex look at grief and different ways of dealing with it. Jeff is a very odd person, his on-screen persona his true personality, not an act, and he has a unique viewpoint on the world. Carrey is a rare actor who can make that seem sincere while also allowing the pain to peek through. It’s a really excellent performance.
KIDDING would be fine as a one-man showcase, and indeed, Carrey has earned such a series. However, he is surrounded by a fantastic ensemble that really enriches the story being told. Frank Langella (The Americans) plays Sebastian, Jeff’s boss who is also his father, making that relationship a lot more layered than it would otherwise be. Puppeteer Deirdre (Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich) that works on the show is also Jeff’s sister. His estranged wife, Jill (Judy Greer, Arrested Development), is a nurse at the Mr. Pickles Cancer Wing. This blurring of the personal and professional really informs on Jeff as a character, and they all carry their own weight rather effectively, more than just there to serve him, though they do that, too.
The series is both grounded and slightly fantastical, mostly in the way it applies to its lead character. Jeff doesn’t have a firm grasp on reality because he always sees and assumes the best. His show can exist in a place like that, and he’s been able to get away with it because of the lucky life he’s led. But when issues crash down on him, it’s very interesting to see how someone like Jeff weathers the storm.
I love that this is a very dark drama, but that it has room for small bits of comedy. And I do mean small. The opening sequence of episode two, which involves a car theft, is the funniest thing in the initial pair of installments, and no main characters are really part of it. It’s telling that the story has to step away from its leads to find something so hilarious, because their lives are not equipped to handle it currently.
And yet, there’s something about this show that I’m just not sure about yet. Partly it’s because Jeff’s viewpoint, which the audience is mainly guided by, is definitely not the true telling. Partly because we’re still missing key pieces of the emotional story. Partly because Jeff might very well be a powder keg that is going to explode before long. And partly because there are small hanging threads from episode to episode that beg to be resolved. KIDDING seems like something you’d have to make it through a whole season of before you could properly judge it.
I like this show a lot, mainly because of the actors and the basic premise. In the details, sometimes it can be a little slow, sometimes a little obtuse, but overall, it’s interesting and feels unique. I am very curious to see where it goes and if Carrey can keep his performance reigned in, as the subtlety is very much working for him.
KIDDING airs Sundays at 10PM on Showtime.