Jim Carrey returns to television after a 24 year absence in the new Showtime comedy/drama, Kidding. Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, the successful host of Mr. Pickles Puppet Time, a PBS children’s show that’s been on the air for 30 years.
The series begins with Jeff making an appearance on the Conan O’Brien Show. Danny Trejo is already on the guest couch, sporting a large, gaudy gold and diamond necklace that says P-Hound. Jeff innocently asks him what the P stands for. Trejo tries to come up with a G-rated answer. “It’s like a ladies…” he says, hesitating. “Is it her purse?” Jeff asks. “Yes, purse,” Trejo replies.
Jeff sits down and pulls out an instrument. Conan asks what it is. Trejo answers him: “Come on, everyone knows UkeLarry.” Jeff dedicates the song he is about to play to his wife and he starts singing. Trejo and the entire audience sing along. It’s obvious Mr. Pickles is beloved by the American public.
After his successful Conan appearance, Jeff returns home to a dumpy apartment. Something falls off the side of his fridge. He picks it up off the floor and puts it back up with the magnet it’s attached to. The camera zooms in to show a baseball card with a picture of a young boy in a yellow baseball uniform that reads: PHILIP PICCIRILLO.
Puppet designer Deirdre, played by Catherine Keener, is such an overbearing mother that she’s checking through the family recycling bin for discarded vegetables. She finds them and berates her daughter Maddy for not eating them. As punishment, until Maddy eats her veggies, she cannot bathe or shower and her daughter, although not happy at first, is stubborn enough to accept this punishment.
An Episode About Death
In the next scene, Jeff is talking to his producer Seb, played by Frank Langella. He tells Seb it’s been a year since his son died and he wants to do a show about death. His producer refuses. He pleads with Jeff to understand there are two of him. “There’s Mr. Pickles, the 112 million dollar licensing industry… and then there’s Jeff, a separated husband and grieving father and, trust me, never the two should meet,” Seb says. “Jeff needs to heal but Mr. Pickles is fine.”
Frustrated, Jeff drives to his old house and starts cleaning up and this is something I can relate to. Cleaning is an excellent outlet for both frustration and anger. His estranged wife, played by Judy Greer, shows up and asks him why he’s there and all I can think is – be grateful, woman, he’s cleaning your filthy house!
He asks her if she’d like to go see Phil’s baseball team play. She tells him that’s just sad. Their son has died, why would they want to do something so painful? “Besides,” she says. “I go to my wine club at 6 and it’s more fun on an empty stomach.” Jeff is shocked and wonders, since she’s drinking wine before dinner, “what’s next, Pall Malls?”
Their surviving son Will, played by Cole Allen, comes home and they walk outside together and notice the house next door is for sale. The couple considering purchasing it walk outside with their young daughter and the real estate agent calls Hello to Mr. Pickles. He tells them it’s a “super-duper” neighbourhood. The little girl gives Jeff a flower and he asks her if her name is Princess. She smiles at him brightly. Then Will tells her the houses in the area were built on a old zoo that burnt down and the animals haunt it. “You can always hear the penguins screaming.”
As the real estate agent whisks them away, Will tells him Jill left him because he’s a pussy and it suddenly dawns on Jeff: “I just got the P in P-Hound.”
Then, as Jeff is driving his PT Cruiser, complete with wood paneling on the side (I had a hand-me down station wagon like that) he stops at an intersection and we find out how Will’s brother Phil died.
As it turns out the brothers were identical twins and their mother was driving them somewhere in the family mini-van. They have a drop down TV and their father is on it. Will wants to see what he has to say and it looks like Phil was the s**t-disturber that Will has now turned into. A delivery truck crashes into them and the rest is history.
Jeff again pushes his producer (Frank Langella) to do a show about death. He agrees to it when Jeff suggests they film it that day and air it the next day.
Jeff is sitting on his stage with a box that says Donations on it, surrounded by children sitting in the audience. He asks the children if they’ve ever had to move and put their belongings in moving boxes and if their parents put old stuff in donation boxes. Then he asks them how they would feel if their favourite stuffy ended up in a donation box and they never got to see it again. “Would you feel sad that you never got to say goodbye?”
“I had a son named Phil, he was once your age,” Jeff begins. “He died, so we put him in a box and we buried him.” Then he starts singing: “What does it mean to lose a thing you really want to stay?”
An Unpleasant Surprise For Deirdre
Next we see Deirdre, whose daughter is in the bathroom running a bath. Angry, Deirdre walks in and tells Maddy she can’t bathe until she eats her vegetables.
“It’s dirty, it fell on the floor,” Maddy replies. Deirdre asks her “when?” Flashback to Maddy,walking into the house with the groceries and when she got inside, she looked back and saw the next door neighbour with his hands down her dad’s pants. Inevitably, the grocery bag crashed to the floor, all the vegetables pouring out of it.
The camera cuts back to a devastated Deirdre who tells her daughter: “OK, don’t forget to wash your hair.” She joins her husband, played by Bernard White, in their bedroom and says nothing to him about what she just heard from their daughter. He’s just pleased she finally let their daughter take a bath.
There’s a family dinner at Jeff’s apartment the next evening and we learn that Deidre is Jeff’s sister and Seb is his father. There’s a nice touch in this scene where Maddy is shoving as much broccoli in her mouth as she can fit.
The next day, Jeff turns on Mr. Pickles Puppet Time and they’re not running his episode about death.
“Of course we couldn’t air it Jeff, the show can’t age, you can’t age,” Seb tells him. Jeff proceeds to get out an electric razor and shave a huge stripe down his head. And it turns out, he’s buying the house right next door to his wife. He’s staring at Jill and her new boyfriend though the kitchen window as the episode ends.
I have been looking forward to Kidding since I saw a preview for it more than a month ago and it didn’t disappoint. The show, beautifully written by Dave Holstein and directed by Michel Gondry, has a great cast and Carrey is convincing in the role of Jeff Pickles, a man who is troubled and charming at the same time. He’s the “man in the box” and yet trying to preserve the persona of Mr. Pickles is destroying him inside as his life falls apart.
Kidding airs Sunday nights at 10 on Showtime in the U.S. and The Movie Network (TMN) in Canada.