There are plenty of impressive elements within Showtime’s Kidding. The creator, Dave Holstein, previously worked on the hit Weeds. It stars the immensely talented Jim Carrey, who puts in a memorable (and perhaps awards-worthy) performance. The first two episodes are directed by Michel Gondry who, alongside Carrey, is also an executive producer. It prides itself on being a mixture of comedy and drama—a genre that’s all the rage these days. And each episode is only a half-hour, which feels like an actual blessing in a world of bloated cable shows. Frequently, Kidding uses all of this to its advantage to build a compelling series but sadly, it also spends too much time struggling to find its balance.
In Kidding, Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, the longtime host of a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood-esque show. Like Mr. Rogers, Jeff is a beloved figure — many who grew up with him now watch his show with their children. We meet Jeff on the one-year anniversary of his son’s death, a tragedy that’s understandably still running through Jeff’s veins. He’s since separated from his wife, Jill (Judy Greer, wonderful as always and getting a chance to show her range), but is going to great — not always healthy — lengths to remain close to her and his other son, Will (Cole Allen).
Jeff wants to do a show about death, much to the chagrin of his executive producer, Seb (Frank Langella). Jeff insists that the show would be helpful to children: “Kids know the sky is blue. They need to know what to do when it’s falling,” he explains. (For the record, I would 100% watch a children’s puppet show about death.) Really, it just makes Seb wary of Jeff’s continued involvement with the show because he wants the two sides — the man who is still grieving the loss of his son, and the edutainer who sings with puppets and teaches colors — to never meet.
So much of Kidding is about grief: Jeff’s ongoing narrative at the forefront of the series; Jill, who resembles more of a zombie than a person except when she lashes out; and Will, who shoves away his interest in magic in favor of smoking weed with the older kids and who, after losing his twin, laments that often people look at him and “see both of us.” Even the characters not actively responding to death are grieving in other ways, like Jeff’s sister (and puppeteer) Deirdre (Catherine Keener, another brilliant casting choice) who is learning truths about her husband and dealing with her daughter’s regressive behavior. A potential romantic interest spends a date recounting her sad background; Jeff spends some free time with cancer patients. It’s as if Jeff is followed by a rain cloud and everyone near him gets a little soaked, too. Every time I attempted to describe the basic plot, I felt like a huge downer. Kidding, by the way, is also a comedy.