TV Recap: Kidding: Episode 1 "Go Means Go"
Michel Gondry and Jim Carrey’s last tandem effort fourteen years ago produced one of the most memorable and stubbornly uncategorizable masterworks of the twenty-first century: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That film, working off one of Charlie Kaufman’s best screenplays, conjured magic from Kaufman’s heartbreakingly honest words, Gondry’s stunningly surreal dreamscapes, and Carrey’s best dramatic work to date. The duo’s most recent work - Kidding - is, at least after this first episode, solid, but nowhere near approaching the greatness of their last collaboration; Kaufman’s knack for situation and dialogue is sorely missed. And though it may not seem totally fair to compare the two works - they are, after all, totally dissimilar stories with wildly divergent tones - in doing so, I think the show’s debut episode’s biggest flaws and greatest triumphs become clearer.
Jeff Pickles (Jim Carrey) is a children’s television icon. He radiates kindness and compassion and much like Pickles’ obvious real-world counterpart - Mr. Rogers - Pickles fights to keep the show flexible enough to tackle serious problems like dealing with grief and mourning. At the core of the character is an empathy that validates children’s emotional experiences as much as it does adults’ experiences. Meanwhile, his boss, Sebastian (Frank Langella), pushes Pickles to bend to the demands of the show’s sponsors in order to secure the subject he wants to tackle despite Pickles’ protestations.
In a key scene late in the episode, Pickles takes the stage to discuss death with his pre-school aged audience. Death, he explains, is like giving away a toy when you move towns; it’s sad to lose your toy, but there’s hope in knowing some other child may be enjoying the toy in your absence. Gondry shoots the scene in an intimate medium-close with Carrey, eyes twinkling from tears, addressing us directly through the camera. It’s a brilliant and affecting moment; a beat which conjures the very best memories of Mr. Rogers’ iconic show. When Gondry goes for the brazen, almost uncomfortable honesty of Eternal Sunshine, he creates magic. And, his cast - a phenomenal Jim Carrey, Catherine Keener, and Frank Langella, among others - is right there to support him with some of their best work in years.
But, the episode also fails to nail the dark, insightful humor that Kaufman’s works so cleverly uses to drive the moments of honesty home. There are a lot of humorous beats in Kidding’s first episode - from a horny couple in one of the show’s costume animals to insults hurled at Mr. Pickles for his perceived lack of manhood (a lazy trope that problematically ties masculinity to aggression) - but few truly succeed in sticking the landing and most feel like cheap attempts to elicit laughter. It’s a shame, because every single major cast member here has proven comedic chops far more sophisticated than the material they’re given.
It’s certainly possible that Kidding’s subsequent episodes will dissect and subvert the tropes presented in this pilot episode and that the humor will sharpen as the characters deepen. But, in this first episode, it’s hard not to be disappointed by all the lackluster writing occluding the truly spectacular acting. I’ll give episode one a tentative recommendation for its one truly sublime climactic scene.