Jim Carrey returns as a kids’ show host who stubbornly continues to choose goodness, no matter what life throws at him.
Kidding picks up right where it left off in season one, with reality literally crashing in on Jeff Pickles (Jim Carrey). Season two follows the ever-moving cycle of conflict in Jeff’s life and psyche. Though no longer listed as a director for the series, Michel Gondry’s cool, icy tone (with plenty of gliding single takes) is still present. In this season, it’s former Weeds showrunner Dave Holstein’s delightfully twisted sense of humor that gets to shine. The series fully embraces the absurdity of its circumstances and brings more laughs. Not to say the show is any lighter. Like Weeds, it brings the menace this season. It’s 2020; everyone’s into ax play.
When we last left Enlightened PBS Children’s Entertainer Jeff Pickles, things were going from bad to worse in every aspect of his life. His show was on permanent hiatus; his marriage, torn apart by the death of his son Phil, is in tatters; family estranged, and his identity is being pulled apart. All he had was the hope found in the felt-fantasy land of Picklebarrel Falls.
Carrey remains a consistent highlight throughout this season, making appropriate choices when conveying Jeff’s conflicted ethics. Jeff ticks and the wheels turn in his brain; it’s part of what makes him feel human. As the show embraces the comedy chops of its main cast, flashes of “Classic Carrey” are present and we can see that Carrey hasn’t lost his goofiness at all and that everything being acted for us is a choice.
If, for some reason, you haven’t been worshiping Judy Greer since Jawbreaker (1999), this season is your chance to experience the wonder of one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated actresses. Kidding fully embraces Greer’s astonishing array of talents: she gets to be wild, absurd, and zany, while also showing vulnerability, inner conflict, and deadpan comedic timing. The song she sings with Jeff about their divorce is heart-wrenching. Now that the show has proved Carrey’s craftsmanship in the first season, Kidding’s second season works to make the show more of an ensemble piece, starting with Greer.
The series fully embraces the absurdity of its circumstances and brings more laughs. Not to say the show is any lighter. Like Weeds, it brings the menace this season.
Catherine Keener’s raspy, cutting voice is legendary. As lead puppet designer and Jeff’s sister, Deirdre, Keener’s dry and frank comedic timing (complete with that raspy, cutting voice) is perfect for the scenarios written for her. The series humanizes the absurd circumstances of the characters’ lives. As Deirdre’s home, work, and sex life get turned upside down, Keener maintains a mastery over her performance that invites the viewer to laugh at its believability. Only she could make getting a vibrating cereal prize stuck up your vagina both hilarious and poignant.
And lo, the all-shaking thunder of Frank Langella as Seb, the Pickles’ patriarch, rolls in at last. Last season, we saw a bit of tenderness in Seb as he began to bond with his grandson Will, which cracked Langella’s gruff, ungrateful mold. The second season uses this opening of vulnerability to cleave open Seb’s psyche like a thunderbolt and push him to his very limits. As his faculties begin to fail, Langella launches into King Lear levels of rage against the dying of the night.
Throughout its run, Kidding has found conflict and humor in the way reality disrupts Jeff’s idealism. Visual and/or audio interruptions smash into moments of fantasy. A cell phone ring cuts off a tender moment; a body hitting a car window jolts us back from a fond memory. In this season, however, the fantasy begins to insert itself into reality, and the show begins to crank out an exciting dialectic between the material and ideal worlds.
There is a truly whimsical episode this season that takes place largely in the imaginary world of Picklebarrel Falls, which sets the possibility of fantasy intruding upon reality for the rest of the season. There are more musical numbers (including an extended sequence featuring Ariana Grande) along with ghosts and doppelgängers. People and things are not always what they seem. Minds play tricks.
The show bungles queer fantasy in two distinct ways this season. The closet Deirdre’s husband, Scott (Bernard White) places himself in doesn’t make sense in the context of previous episodes last season in which we were led to believe Scott was coming out and admitting he’s gay. In a show where all the characters actively discuss progressive social messages of acceptance, including and especially Deirdre, that Scott should be in a closet of his own making doesn’t make sense, and seems to only exist for frustrated laughs, not serving the story at all.
Then there’s Blair (Matthew Hancock), who is introduced at the end of the season. Without spoiling too much, Blair is a figurative lover for one of the characters. As the only black queer person in this very white show, it will be vital that their character is handled with extreme care. The series has largely left queerness in its periphery until this season, so Blair’s inclusion and where we leave them at the end of the season leaves we queer viewers with some trepidation about what might be to come.
There’s still a lot to be hopeful about in Kidding’s future. The show is all about having hope. Yet, hopefully, the series learns to nuance its seemingly bottomless goodness. That Jeff’s biology as a universal blood donor supports his innate kindness and generosity feels like a trite character detail to serve an unconventional plot. Jeff’s moralism is getting predictably reliable; by the end of the second season, there’s a general formula falling into place, in which shockwaves from the previous episode create a new ethical quandary for Jeff, which ends in a dissonant resolution which sets up the next episode.
As things move forward with season three, this should dissipate as Kidding begins to think about its own messages. Currently, it has a nebulous relationship with capitalism and the social issues of our time which will need elucidating. Like the show within a show, Kidding demonstrates that it values the intelligence of its audience, and it’s always willing to listen.
Season 2 of Kidding premieres on Showtime February 9th.