When I reviewed the first episode of Kidding I had certain doubts about it, I was worried it might be too conventional a series that might not stray from the obvious, but boy was I wrong. Over the past nine episodes it’s grown in to a fascinating insight in to a man who’s slowly losing everything, from his wife to his work to his new partner, and he’s quite possibly having an ongoing and seemingly never ending breakdown as he’s started to hallucinate and for him reality has become increasingly confused. It’s also told the tales of a dissolving relationship between his sister Deirdre and her possibly gay husband Scott, who at the very least is bisexual, shown us how poor parenting can really screw someone up, and touched upon the difficulties of being a young child and a teenager. I’d even go as far as to suggest there’s not many facets of life it hasn’t tackled, which makes for a pretty unique television series.
Jim Carrey has been a real revelation as the central character Jeff Pickles who is doing his absolute best to greet life with a chipper smile despite all of the tragedies he’s subjected too, it’s a pared down performance and so all the more powerful when true emotion has exploded all over the screen. Meanwhile Catherine Keener is superb as Deirdre, a mother desperately wanting to be loved and seeking such a thing in quite possibly the worst way imaginable, at least if the sex scene in episode nine is as concerning as it looked, and Judy Greer has turned in a career best as Jeff’s former wife Jill who knows she loves Jeff but also that she can’t be with him anymore. Frank Langella’s also been captivating, clearly relishing being an absolute bastard as Jeff’s father Seb, who claims his actions are for everyone’s best but it’s clear that his main concern is for himself, the show’s made him millions so why he’d need even more money is down to pure and complete greed. Hell, even the kids produced fantastic performances with Cole Allen and Juliet Morris being particularly worth of acclaim. An enormous amount of kudos must also go to the incredibly impressive writing from Dave Holstein and direction by Michel Gondry (amongst others) which has been a delight, constantly inventive and surprising, no matter how fucked up things have gotten.
Episode nine ended for Jeff with a betrayal from his father, the discovery that his wife wished to move her new lover Pete (Justin Kirk, also on top form) in to the family home, and most shockingly of all the horrendous throat slashing of an ice skater in the Pickles On Ice show, though she somehow survived the experience which was the only thing I found disappointing about the episode. Whilst Jeff isn’t responsible for any of this it looked like he blames himself, especially when it comes to the latter incident as he fantasised about killing her at the time. And given everything that had happened to him I presumed episode ten would end traumatically, with that belief only tapered by the fact that a second series has already been commissioned. I was caught off guard when it appeared that it wouldn’t though, and for a few brief moments had hope we’d see a joyful ending. But then this is not what this particular series is all about.
For the past couple of episodes there’d been talk of Jeff giving a speech at the annual lighting of America’s Christmas Tree, broadcast live to over ten million, with much concern about what he might say and whether he’d have a full breakdown on air. Thankfully the latter doesn’t happen, but he does give an impassioned speech about how adults have screwed up the planet for their children, how the majority are horrendous parents (with the line “You are the product of narcissism” being something I couldn’t help but agree with when it comes to a fair few children that I know) along with the confession that due to the way he’s treated his children he feels he’s responsible for his son’s death in a car accident, all of which creates a truly powerful moment, and one which has a profound effect on the lives he’s touched.
Despite the fact that it looks like by doing such a thing he’s put everyone involved with the show out of work, and led to a woman he briefly dated returning to cocaine once again, on the positive side it’s enough for Seb to make the call to a Mr Pickles impersonator, yet it turns out it’s not to replace Jeff but just so that he can finally hear the words “I love you daddy”, and later he finally stops being a tv producer and becomes a father instead. Jill realises the torment he’s been going through as well and welcomes him back in to her life whenever he needs her, and Will seeks him out, wishing to actually spend time with his father for once. Jeff has been attempting to be honest about his life all through the series with Seb thwarting such a desire, but by finally doing so his family are able to realise how much he needs them and it’s a touching affair.
Perhaps most importantly it leads to the children who watch his show ever day to seek him out, and soon the studio is filled with them as they all just want to be listened to. For a series which has often only seen the worst in it’s characters it’s a joyful moment, made all the more emotional when Seb joins the enormous line outside so that he can spend time with his son. For a long time the rest of the episode feels like an almost cliched Christmas miracle where everything’s going to work out, what with Frank and Seb reconnecting, Jill calling Jeff and being kind to him, Will apologising to the girl he cares about and getting to make out with her, and Jeff and Pete bonding despite the fact that they’re in love with the same woman. And I wanted that happy ending, everything that the characters have been through is so distressing that they deserved it more than any fictional character I can think of (well, bar maybe Agent Dale Cooper, but that’s a story for a whole other day), but this is Kidding, so of course there’s a final sting in the tail, and a brutal one at that.
As you can probably tell from the above Kidding has been heavy going at times, and deserves the description of “a dramedy” more than most shows which get called such a thing, even though I’m not particularly comfortable with the term, but it’s been perversely funny in places as too and applies with this year’s final episode as well. The humour mainly comes from when Deidre explains how she sees everyone as various puppets, with the highlights being Jill as Jeff’s heart and Seb as God. Jill’s new partner Pete also provides some funny moments towards the end, but also the most heartbreaking one, all of which combine to make Kidding one of the finest series I’ve seen in years. It’s deeply affecting and a show filled with wisdom, which is shockingly rare when it comes to television these days. There are a lot of amazing series out there, don’t get me wrong, but very very few are as intelligent and thought provoking as Kidding is, and as an exploration of death, grief and love the only show I can compare it to is HBO’s Six Feet Under.
Will Jeff Pickles ever get his happy ending? I have a feeling that it’s doubtful, this is a world where everything is far more complicated than that. In the first episode Jeff comments “It’s the quiet ones that make the news” and the finale fulfils that prophecy, and I don’t know where the show will go from here. I am glad it is returning, but at the same time I hope Showtime only keep it on the air for a certain amount of time, this should be a finite story rather than one which meanders on for what seems like forever like too many of the network’s programmes (Shameless, Homeland and Dexter, for instance). But if it does manage to not outstay it’s welcome and maintains it’s current high quality it could end up being a series which is talked about and deeply admired for many years to come.
Our review of Episode 1.