Showtime’s Kidding opens with Mr. Pickles (Jim Carrey), a sweet and oblivious Mr. Rogers-like children’s entertainer, appearing on Conan (sitting next to Danny Trejo) to promote his new book. The setup is meant to echo the real-life Mr. Rogers appearance on Late Night with David Letterman from years ago, a situation where Mr. Pickles is never in on the joke and remains both a source of mockery and of immense respect and admiration.
That’s our introduction to Mr. Pickles, and it leads into an intriguing premise, but I’m skeptical about the odds of the series materializing into something great, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if it’s a show that I’d like if it were ever to become the best version of itself (and the pilot is far from that). Created by Dave Holstein, Kidding reunites Jim Carrey with the dream-like imagination of Michel Gondry, who directs most of the first season. While Kidding undoubtedly boasts Gondry’s visual flair, the series feels more like Mr. Rogers meets Todd Solondz, and it’s a disquieting combination.
Carrey plays Mr. Pickles, who — like Fred Rogers — inhabits his character offscreen as well as on. He’s a sweet, earnest man who loves children, but after his wife left him following the death of their son in a car accident, Mr. Pickles is reeling. The repressed anger, grief, sadness are bubbling to the surface, and they are warping his personality and threatening to spill out all over his carefully cultivated persona.
Part of the problem is that the show-within-a-show is controlled by his jaded and cynical father, Sebastian (Frank Langella), who cares only about the show’s bottom line. He wants to separate Jeff — the grieving father — from Mr. Pickles, the television character. When Jeff pitches an episode about death — because Mr. Pickles doesn’t otherwise know how to process his feelings but through his character — Sebastian pushes back, insisting that it wouldn’t sit well with the audience, although he eventually allows Mr. Pickles to film the awkward episode. However, Sebastian doesn’t let the episode air, and that’s when the cracks begin to surface, beginning with Mr. Pickles’ decision to give himself a reverse mohawk.
Meanwhile, Mr. Pickles is also dealing with his other son — the identical twin brother of the dead son — who is acting out in cruel ways (he attempts to put a garbage bag of bees in his mother’s van). Of course, Mr. Pickles isn’t emotionally equipped to deal with that sort of dysfunction. His ex-wife (Judy Greer, in bitter ex-mode, unfortunately) dismisses him as a “pussy” while trying to move on. However, Mr. Pickles buys a house and moves in next door without asking permission first, which is CLEARLY NOT OK.
Pickles also has a sister who works as a puppeteer on the show, Deirdre (Catherine Keener, a delight). She has a daughter who is also acting out, though for completely different reasons (her Dad is getting hand jobs from another man), and Deirdre manages the situation in exactly the opposite of the way her brother would: She forbids her from bathing until she eats her vegetables. Whatever works, right?
All of which is to say: It’s that kind of show, like violently murdering Leslie Knopes’ husband (no, Ben!) and making her work as Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ assistant. It’s only a matter of time before Pickles cracks — the mystery lies in whether Mr. Pickles will be a danger to only himself, or if he’s going to turn into a mass-killing Cable Guy. Truthfully, I’m not sure I want to stick around to find out.
Header Image Source: Showtime