Author’s note: SPOILERS for the season, including the season finale.
Kidding, Showtime’s half-hour comedy/drama hybrid created by Dave Holstein, is a meditation on the lasting damage of a soul spent on saving others and having nothing left for itself. Jim Carrey stars as Jeff Piccirillo, Jeff Pickles as his stage name, a Mr. Rogers-esque children’s show host based out of Ohio whose cast of puppets help him make a child’s day brighter. But in the world outside, Jeff has lost one of his children, he is estranged from his wife Jiff (Judy Greer), and his father Sebastian (Frank Langella) and sister Deirdre (Catherine Keener) fear for his sanity.
Over the course of the season, it becomes clear Jeff continuing on with his life, when his old life is now gone, has severed something inside of him. The way in which the show plays out, it can be difficult to ascertain if what we see is reality or fragments of Jeff’s overjoyed outlook on life. It’s intercut with sudden moments of violence, happening off screen where we only see the result. He is teetering closer to the cliff, but kindness and perseverance always seem to pull him back.
Jeff’s relationship with Jill and Will (Cole Allen), and his late son Phil (also Allen) serve to show his past is his undoing, as a man who existed in body but not in spirit when it came to being present. He was lost to helping others when he could have been helping those closest to him. The honesty session at the end of the fourth episode, “Bye, Mom”, is one of the season’s stronger moments, where Jill unloads on Jeff about her place in his world, and how he views their son’s death so differently. Her candid speech of being the Mrs. Claus to his Santa is heartbreaking, and Greer does an excellent job at revealing Jill’s insecurity. Jeff sees a circle, and Jill sees a hole, and it’s the perfect representation of their worldview.
Episode eight, “Philliam”, is one of the more standout episodes of the season as it takes a look back at time before the devastating loss of Jeff’s son Phil. In it, we see Jeff and Phil do not have a solid relationship, with acting out and getting passed over by surviving twin Will at every turn. But it’s in Jeff’s relationship with Derrell and his father on death row where the episode finds its more potent moments. Derrell’s speech in the restaurant is a great character piece for Alex Raul Barrios.
The finale, “Some Day”, smartly gives Jeff his breakthrough, learning he must listen after spending most of the season hearing, but not really listening. The lines of kids coming to the stage to confide their pain to Jeff is a smart way to visualize how his show has reached so many young hearts. The episode also left us with a rarity of the season, Jeff and Deirdre sharing an honest moment together, where it is revealed everyone has an analogue to each puppet in Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time. This could have used some more build-up, as it seemingly comes out of nowhere without any hints, but it does set up the last scene nicely.
Peter (Justin Kirk), Jill’s boyfriend, confronts Jeff about buying the house next door, telling him his constant maneuvers to win back Jill are hurting her more than fixing their broken marriage. Jeff agrees with him, turning the argument into a positive for both. It’s hard to tell if the snapping point was going to happen all along, or when the joint came into play (the music shift would give the idea it was the joint), but Jeff runs down Peter with his car. His puppet analogue, now in the driver’s seat, is the wacky wavy inflatable sad puppet, and the final shot is of Jeff in his puppet world, looking back gleefully. He has reached his breaking point, even after learning his lesson, though it’ll be until the second season (already ordered) where we find out if his mind is lost in his own creations, or it means he found his happy place.
With Dave Holstein showrunning, and Michel Gondry, Jake Schreier, and Minkie Spiro directing, the show is inspired in its imagination and aloof in how it’s presented. It’s not a straightforward show by any means, but it’s rewarding in how it shows the deconstruction of a man’s life with all of the warning signs flashing by with so much kindness and happiness to throw around. It’s the perfect juxtaposition, and having Carrey at the helm is absolutely genius. He is spectacular as Jeff Pickles, bringing the role so much pathos and warmth and the darker tone it needs when things start going south. His smile is infectious, and his pain hard to handle at times, and Carrey is exactly what the show needed at its core. Langella is great as Sebastian, caring only about the product when his own son is falling apart before his eyes. He gets most of the best lines of the season, and Langella can do straight-faced comedy abnormally well. Keener did not get as much as I’d hoped in the season, mostly off to the side when the short pairings of Carrey and Keener together are wonderful. But she had some strong moments when holding together a scene by herself, which was worthwhile. Greer was a solid force all season, the fourth episode argument her strongest moment.
It wasn’t all perfect, though. Some storylines, especially with Will, did not always work, and some of the sharpness to the tone shifts left me with some whiplash. The divorce and marital issues Deirdre faces were a little up and down, some more time needed to really sell them properly. Some moments overall, perhaps some extra time with Jeff after the ice skating incident would have been ideal, but as a sudden moment to close the episode, it was enough.
Kidding is a great show, with a solid grasp on what it is and what it wants to say. There may be some bumps along the way, mostly in some tonal shifts and lead characters not sharing enough time together, but the world, the incredible puppet creations, the direction it’s heading, and Carrey at the helm provide a first season well worth your time.
Kidding airs on Showtime, and has been renewed for a second season.