‘Kidding’: Jim Carrey returns in an eclectic drama of discomfort

I have said since Showtime’s Kidding was first announced last year that, if given a blank check to make any TV show, a Jim Carrey/Michel Gondry puppet depression tragicomedy would be at the top of my list of ideas. So this 10-episode series, created by Dave Holstein, arrives on my doorstep to the highest of expectations. And while the first half-hour episode certainly isn’t the groundbreaking masterpiece of my fever dreams, it’s a fascinating and deeply unsettling set-up for a series that could very well be one of the most unique TV projects we’ve seen in quite some time.

Carrey, one of the most dynamic screen actors of my lifetime, plays a hybrid of himself and Mr. Rodgers called Jeff Pickles, host of a light children’s show featuring an array of puppet friends, and father of twin sons — one of whom has been dead a year following a car accident. Jeff and both sons, it must be said, have the same haircut as me. So naturally my connection to this show instantly feels pathological. Jeff wants to do an episode of his show that’ll teach the children of America about death and grief. His father/producer (Frank Langella) knows it’ll destroy his sunny brand. This episode zips between Jeff singing disturbingly cheery songs on Conan and trying to sort things out with his surviving son and estranged wife (Judy Greer). It’s a bit like Mr. Popper’s Penguins with a greater touch of mortality.

Kidding also, with Gondry clearly aiming to regain the respect he had in the mid-2000s, has a distinct and engaging directorial edge that sets it apart from, save Danny Boyle’s episodes of Trust, any TV I’ve seen so far in 2018. Gondry has a disrespect for conventions of the frame that appealed to me greatly when I was a child, and that sense of excitement I once held for his pre-Green Hornet work came rushing back when watching this. Concurrent to the Jeff narrative is a subplot regarding his sister (Catherine Keener) and her own family issues — nominally her husband’s gay affair. The extent to which this material will aid or abet the show’s quality — as of yet it doesn’t quite feel worth the time it’s taking away from Carrey’s unmissable performance — remains to be seen. But Keener is a superstar; I’m sure Holstein and Gondry won’t waste her.

With Bojack Horseman returning next Friday for its fifth season, the TV landscape may start to feel a little crowded with these Dark Hollywood Men tales. But I would sacrifice any number of quality shows for the chance to watch Carrey blow us away for 9 more weeks. The fact that he’s back, in a project such as this, and is being allowed to play around with all the tools at Showtime’s disposal, brings me more joy than the saddest moments of Kidding could ever destroy.