There used to be a tier of celebrity that seemed unimpeachable. They were the icons, the people whose front-facing personas dovetailed so nicely with public opinion that everyone felt like they existed in a world apart from regular humans and loved them for it.
In the current era of social media and paparazzi surveillance, it’s hard for anyone to maintain that level of fame. People now know too much about celebrities to hold them on a pedestal, and in the 24-hour entertainment news cycle it sometimes feels like the world is just waiting for them to crack.
Kidding is about what happens when they do.
In Kidding, long-lost superstar Jim Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, a Mr. Rogers–type personality whose musical children’s television show is universally popular. So popular, in fact, that when Jeff’s car is stolen, the thieves frantically return and restore the vehicle once they see his name on the registration. Mr. Pickles is a true icon, one of those characters as beloved as Betty White and as unchanging as Big Bird.
Mr. Pickles is also a man in crisis. One year before the events of Kidding, one of his twin sons died in a car accident, leaving a wound in the center of his family. In the time between the accident and the show, Jeff’s wife separated from him, his living son turned against him, he moved from his family home to a dingy apartment, and his grieving process…well, it never really existed.
A darkly funny portrait about what happens when the world’s most famously cheery and empathetic man doesn’t have an outlet for his valid negative emotions.
What follows in the first two episodes of Kidding, which are streaming on Showtime, is a darkly funny portrait about what happens when the world’s most famously cheery and empathetic man doesn’t have an outlet for his valid negative emotions. After introducing Jeff as a kind but somewhat ineffective character (his own son calls him a pussy, and the kid’s not wrong), Kidding then begins to expose the hairline cracks in his psyche — smash cuts to objects breaking imply that Jeff is unaware that he has begun lashing out in violent outbursts, and he demonstrates a terrifying lack of boundaries on multiple occasions.
Nothing good seems to lurk in Jeff Pickles’ future, and his descent into whatever madness awaits him is set to be the crux of the show.
Now is a good time to catch up on Kidding because the first two episodes do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of setting the plot in motion. Side stories about Jeff’s son Will pay off when the high school freshman finds his own, likely destructive way of dealing with his brother’s death. Jeff’s sister has a whole host of her own issues, from a daughter who exhibits signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to a husband who appears perfect and falls very short of his image.
Getting to know the characters and where they are in reaction to the accident is crucial in understanding the relationships that drive the show, and with half hour episodes watching the first two together is roughly the length of any single HBO dramedy. It’s better and clearer to take them as shot and chaser.
And of course, watching Kidding is a great excuse to see Jim Carrey again. Sure, he popped up in a few indie movies here and there, but he has largely retreated from the spotlight since his heyday in the 90s and early 00s. It’s easy to see what about Kidding drew Carrey back, even he hasn’t been on a TV show since In Living Color ended in 2001 — it’s the story of an icon who is forced to grapple with the worst parts of being a human.
There are elements of Jim Carrey in Jeff Pickles. He’s as rubber-faced and goofy as ever in some moments, but is also straight-backed and stiff with repressed emotion. The weight of being Mr. Pickles feels physical on his exhausted-looking face, but he also delights in being able to be kind and change the lives of children. It’s an actor’s dream role, and one that could hardly be filled by someone who doesn’t already remind the audience of the character.
Kidding is filled with musical moments, sharp dialogue, and lovely character moments, but it most importantly contains a low-key type of emotional horror that can only get more present over the course of the season. Now’s the time to hop on the Mr. Pickles train and see where it lands Jeff and the rest of his family.
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