September 4, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Kidding”


KIDDING:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime (available now via streaming & VOD)

Showtime’s new dramedy KIDDING is being likened to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind because it mixes gags with melancholy, and particularly because it reunites star Jim Carrey with director Michel Gondry.  But a critical member of that team is missing:  writer Charlie Kaufman, one of the few current popular artists whose name can be combined with “genius” without too much of an asterisk.  The creator of Kidding is Dave Holstein, previously a writer/producer on the Carrey-produced I’m Dying Up Here, and that’s very different.

Without Kaufmanesque surges of inspiration, what Kidding gives us is something much more straightforward.  The protagonist is Jeff Pickles (Carrey), a character as close to the Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as the need to avoid litigation could permit.  Jeff has also been the host of a beloved children’s public television show for decades, called Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time, and like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the show, while a national phenomenon, is produced as a local telecast with a small crew, which in the case of Kidding includes Jeff’s father Seb (Frank Langella) as producer, and his sister Deirdre (Catherine Keener) as head puppeteer.  Also like all accounts of Fred Rogers, Jeff is a gentle, almost child-like figure in his private life.  (The pilot even includes a glimpsed recreation of Rogers’ famous testimony to a Congressional committee.)

What keeps Kidding from being a scripted version of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the central event around which the series revolves:  the tragic, accidental death of Jeff’s son Phil (Cole Allen, who also plays Phil’s surviving twin brother Will).  Kidding begins one year after the accident, with Jeff’s life in a resulting shambles, unable to face his own grief.  Although there’s a brief hint at the end of the pilot that there may be a darkness lurking in Jeff, he lives almost entirely in denial, determined to keep a sunny outlook and to look forward.  It drives those around him crazy, to the extent that his wife Jill (Judy Greer, forever the wife) has broken up with him, Will is acting out, and Jeff’s family/crew members treat him with caution.

Despite the showbiz surroundings (a running gag asks whether the two gay guys who inhabit the Puppet Time horse are having sex in the costume), there aren’t a lot of laughs to be had here.  The bigger problem is that as Holstein has written it, there’s not a lot of drama, either.  Perhaps the path of Kidding is to show Jeff’s facade gradually crack, but initially at least his placidity puts the burden on the other characters to create propulsion, and they’re not terribly interesting.  For his part, Carrey gives a delicate performance, careful not to ridicule Jeff’s near-saintly innocence.  Nevertheless, Carrey bears the baggage of his own crazy-man comic past, and you can feel the effort that goes into holding Jeff’s demeanor in check.  Langella gets the bulk of the comedy, and handles it with ease, while Keener for now feels overcast in her supporting role, a note that goes double for Greer.

Like Carrey’s performance, Michel Gondry’s work in the pilot is quite restrained by his standards.   He’s familiar with walking the line between whimsical and wistful, but doesn’t pack much comic energy into the proceedings, and even in half-hour format the pace sags, although the trailer for future episodes suggests that more of Gondry’s trademark visuals (giant heads!) will come into play later on.

The rumor is that Showtime so wanted to land Carrey and Kidding that the network ordered a second season of I’m Dying Up Here as an unofficial package deal.  It’s not clear from the Kidding pilot that his bargain was worth the cost:  old-time Carrey fans may not line up for this sober, depressed role, and appeal is likely to be limited for non-fans  Nevertheless, there’s a lot of talent on view here, and perhaps Kidding has only begun to display its gifts.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."