Kidding is further proof of Jim Carrey’s supreme talent
PERHAPS it’s because he’s best known for the mad facial contortions of his broad comedies, but Jim Carrey is often underestimated as a proper thespian.
While his fame and fortune has come from entertaining folks with his wild, physical antics and buffoonery (and that stuff is a lot harder than it looks), Carrey is always at his best in dramatic roles.
Whether that’s as romantic tragic Joel Barrish in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as Truman Burbank in The Truman Show or as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, Carrey’s natural wistfulness lends those roles gravity and pain.
Maybe it’s his troubled personal life or maybe it’s because many comedians seem to have a darkness they can tap into, but more than most of his peers, Carrey seems to be that sad clown — which makes him sombrely perfect for his new role.
Kidding is Jim Carrey’s first regular TV role in almost 25 years, not since a Canadian sketch series called In Living Color.
Re-teaming with his Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry, Carrey plays Jeff Piccirillo/Mr Pickles, a children’s entertainer in the vein of Mr Rogers.
We’re introduced to Jeff as he’s backstage on the Conan O’Brien show. Through Conan’s earpiece, we hear a producer relate, “Don’t ask about Phil, it happened a year ago.”
Phil was Jeff’s young son, killed in a freak accident. The tragedy has torn Jeff apart from his family, his wife Jill (Judy Greer) and surviving son Will, Phil’s twin (Cole Allen) and he now sleeps on a futon in a sad little apartment.
As Mr Pickles, Jeff has to be the affable TV personality he’s embodied for 30 years — calm, friendly and getting on with it.
Mr Pickles is an institution, so beloved that even the carjacking crims who stole his car return it unscathed once they discover he’s the owner.
Off-camera, Jeff isn’t coping. While he is very much the gentle guy — “Don’t use a bad word if you can use a nice one” — which leads to people calling him a “p*ssy”. He wants to use the Mr Pickles show to talk about death and loss with proclamations that children should know that everyone in their lives have an “expiration date”.
His producer and father (Frank Langella) says it’s commercially impossible and starts to ponder whether Mr Pickles is replaceable in this $125 million licensing empire.
All the while, Jeff’s grief is manifesting as small moments of pure rage as he careers towards that inevitable breakdown.
Created by Weeds writer Dave Holstein, Kidding is a low-key series that makes the most of its supremely talented lead, an actor with great instincts, as a man who desperately wants to heal even if he doesn’t seem to have the emotional capacity or support to process his seemingly insurmountable grief.
That might make Kidding seem like a complete bummer but it’s not. The series has a tint of melancholy, especially when Mr Pickles sings songs with lyrics like “You feel feelings you don’t know”. But it manages to balance the darkness with lighter, more absurd moments.
Throughout it all, Carrey remains this force you can’t stop watching, supported by the likes of Catherine Keener who rarely puts a foot wrong.
Gondry’s hand gives it a coherent visual identity with a slight fairytale feel to it but less whimsical than he has been in the past on something like Mood Indigo.