The new Showtime series Kidding has an almost irresistible sales pitch for film nerds. The show reunites Jim Carrey with his Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry for the surreal tale of a children’s TV host suffering a nervous breakdown. It seems almost inconceivable that such a premise could wind up so drearily dull in execution.
Wearing Tom Hanks’ hair from The Da Vinci Code, Carrey stars as Jeff Piccirillo, a.k.a. longtime kids’ television entertainer Mister Pickles. Mister Pickles puts on a brave face to be calm and reassuring to the little tykes in his audience, but he’s actually very sad inside. His teenage son recently died in a car accident. Though he does an interview with Conan O’Brien pretending that everything in his world is still wonderful, Jeff returns home to an empty apartment. His wife (Judy Greer) has left him for another man. His other son (Cole Allen, who I swear I thought was a girl for ¾ of the episode), the twin of the one who died, thinks he’s a pussy. Insistent on being as kind and innocent as his TV character at all times, Jeff is woefully out of touch with all the adults around him, including his show’s chief puppet maker, Deirdre (Catherine Keener), who makes it a point to raise her own daughter in opposition to any lessons Jeff teaches.
When Jeff decides that he wants to do an episode teaching children about death, his very paternal producer, Sebastian (Frank Langella), resists, fearing that kids in the studio audience will run away screaming and none of their TV viewers will ever watch again. Nonetheless, Jeff is persistent until Sebastian relents and lets him film it. However, when it comes time for the episode to air, Sebastian runs a repeat in its place. He never had any intention of putting the death episode on TV. He just wanted to let Jeff get it out of his system.
In response to this, Jeff tries to take some control over his life by defiantly shaving a reverse mohawk right through the middle of his trademark hair and buying the house next door to his wife and her new boyfriend. Neither of these seems like a good idea. The episode then ends with the revelation that the work family is actually a literal family as well. Sebastian is Jeff’s father and Deirdre is his sister.
Episode Verdict / Grade: C
I get what the show is going for, but the tone is way too morose and doesn’t blend the lighter and darker elements very well. Gondy’s attempts to marry whimsy with crude adult humor (such as the reveal that two of the puppeteers are not-so-secretly fucking inside their horse costume) just come across as crass and mean-spirited. Perhaps future episodes will strike a better balance, but the pilot doesn’t inspire me to watch any further.
Carrey delivers one of those borderline-catatonic performances that he often resorts to when trying to prove that he can be a serious actor, stifling all of his natural charisma and coming across as pretty much a void on screen. One of the episode’s biggest failings is that Mister Pickles himself is a total dud. My own kids wouldn’t sit through more than five minutes of his boring TV show.
Obviously, the Mister Pickles show is meant to be a parody of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but Jeff has none of the real Fred Rogers’ warmth or appeal, and I honestly don’t feel that the world really needs to demythologize Mister Rogers right now. Can’t we leave just one good and pure thing unsullied for a change?