Jim Carrey is in the midst of transformation. The traditionally comedic actor, while often not afraid to showcase his dramatic chops, was typically quick to make us laugh. He would find the most ludicrous, nonsensical ways to draw laughs from people, often in a sort of desperate, overly-determined type of way that — similar to the late, great Robin Williams — either made you mad with hysterics or got on your nerves after a while.
But what happens when the man behind the laughs isn’t laughing anymore? What happens when the man who used to make everyone chuckle doesn’t see the humor in things anymore? What becomes of the class clown who is more likely to cry than to pry a laugh? Is there a way to bring humor to a broken comedian? That’s the central core thesis (among many, many other things) of Kidding, the new Showtime dramedy (more wry drama with comedic overtones) series with Carrey at the forefront. Carrey’s first television series since his acclaimed tenure on In Living Color back in the early ’90s, Jim Carrey isn’t the same Jim Carrey anymore. And that’s intriguing ground worth covering.
Unfortunately, if these first two episodes are a proper indication of what we can expect from the creator, Kidding isn’t fully fleshed out yet. It’s a TV series that centers around a character who is trying to reconnect with himself. And subsequently, the show is still trying to figure itself out too. The time might come, notably by the end of the first season, when it finally comes into its proper form. But by then, will it be too late for the show? It’s too premature to say for certain, but these first two episodes leave a viewer dubious.
But let’s break down Kidding. The new Showtime series centers around Jeff Pickles (Carrey), a long-standing children’s entertainer in PBS who teaches children about important life lessons and hard-to-grasp adult concepts in a friendly, informal way. You know, similar to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. But as Pickles still reels from the untimely death of his son, who died in a tragically quirky manner when his mother’s car was slammed into by a distracted ice cream truck, he finds himself in a state of grave loss. He needs to process his grief and channel his frustrations and sadness through the only means he knows how: his well-viewed, highly-lucrative television program. But his stern producer (Frank Langella) doesn’t want Jeff Pickles to mess with the brand, knowing that anything that’s too dour and depressing will disturb the impressionable young children watching (and, of course, buying the merchandise from the hit show).
Jeff Pickles keeps pushing and pushing, but he is left in a standstill, creatively, with his boss. And with that standstill comes a grave inner turmoil, which unleashes itself in rash and rather unpredictable ways throughout these first two episodes. Will Jeff Pickles snap, or will he find the closure and peace that he so desperately desires here? That’s what the rest of the season will determine, but for now, the question lingers.
Both episodes are directed by acclaimed auteur Michael Gondry, and his recognizable style infuses the oddity of the new adult series. Gondry and Carrey worked wonders together when they made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which remains one of the best films from both the actor and the director. Although with that said, the famous French filmmaker’s signature eccentric style/unique worldview is hardly on display —strangely, sadly and unfortunately. I never thought I would say this, but this Michel Gondry production could afford to be a little quirkier. Kidding doesn’t know how grounded or how surreal it wishes to be in these first two episodes. It bounces between the two extremes in a repetitious fashion, resulting in a show without a clear standing.
The result is uneven and a little uncomfortable as the show finds itself at a loss for what, exactly, it wishes to communicate through this particularly odd little TV series. Maybe it needs some more time? Maybe it needs to figure out its groove? Or maybe it just doesn’t work? It’s hard to know, but it’s safe to say that it isn’t quite there just yet.
Sometimes you see Gondry’s meticulous craft and expert hand at work, like in the second episode during a single-take long shot where we follow Jeff Pickles watching his family from the house next door, peering into the home life away from him. They’re moving on, away from him, and they’re forming a fully functional family dynamic in his absence. Their house is warm, active, brightly lit. His spare house, subsequently, is quite empty, cold and shrouded in blue, punctuating on his lack of love and livelihood. But these moments are sadly few and far-between and Kidding could benefit from having more of that style and vision infused into the show. Unfortunately, Gondry’s involvement in the show is unclear after the second episode and we’re left to wonder.
With that said, Jim Carrey is doing the best he can. He is drawing upon his own sadness, as the actor has similarly suffered a grave and tragic loss in the past couple of years when his girlfriend was found dead of an apparent suicide. This show, in its own little way, can potentially be seen as therapeutic. As much as it pains his fans not to see the same happy-go-lucky Jim Carrey bouncing around and goofing about on the screen, they want him to find peace and some sort of contentment in this troubled time. If this show provides that, then it is a great benefit. But as a show, Kidding is left searching, still unsure of itself and what it wants to say.
It’s safe to say that, from these first two episodes, Kidding is not yet fully formed. Whether it will come to find itself, though, is something we’ll need to find out.