Director: Chris Weitz
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Mélanie Laurent
In the show’s first two episodes, spiky scripts from Holstein and lightly surreal direction from Gondry emphasize the enormous gulf between the optimism radiating from Mr. Pickles and the real-world nihilism surrounding him. Jeff’s ex-wife, Jill (Judy Greer), shuffles with deadened eyes through the house where they once lived as a happy family, releasing her grief in waves of fury that he blithely blinks away. His surviving son, Will (Cole Allen), has started adopting his brother’s rebellious streak, rolling his eyes at the magic tricks he once loved and rejecting his father’s bleeding heart whenever he offers it up.
But Jeff can’t even retreat to the once safe haven of “Puppet Time.” The acerbic mastermind behind the puppets is his sister, Deirdre (Catherine Keener), who’s going through her own family crisis of faith. And his father, Seb (Frank Langella), is the show’s ruthlessly pragmatic producer; he wrinkles his nose at Jeff calling viewers “friends” and refuses to entertain his desire to be straightforward with children about tough topics like death.
Everyone orbiting Jeff, in other words, is an exhausted shell of a person. He tries to smooth down their rough edges, insisting that kindness can be magic and someday they’ll let themselves understand that. But it’s unclear whether “Kidding” truly believes that Jeff’s doing them a disservice by glossing over their pain in his quest for the silver lining in every darkened cloud.
There are a couple glancing attempts to recognize this, especially as Jill does the verbal equivalent of grabbing her ex-husband by the shoulders and shaking him into admitting he’s miserable. But despite Greer’s best efforts (and she is as great as ever), “Kidding” nonetheless portrays Jill less as a voice of reason than as an acidic killjoy dating some new guy (Justin Kirk, practically unrecognizable with silver hair) who wants nothing more than to make Jeff hurt. “Bitter ex-wife” is a disappointing trope for the show to lean on, and even when it attempts to flesh Jill out, “Kidding” inevitably has her snap back into her original form, like a rubber band that can’t help retracting.
The show takes a thematic turn after Holstein and Gondry step away to let others write and direct. Jeff’s quest to sow decency throughout a cold world largely gets abandoned in favor of his asserting his individuality and rebelling against the confines of being the placid TV persona. This is a perfectly reasonable avenue to explore, but it never quite clicks — and the problem lies with Mr. Pickles.
As Jeff, Carrey does his best to embody the conflict of his character existing in a liminal place between pleasant cartoon and flesh-and-blood human. (At one point, Jill demonstrates that she knows how to wound Jeff by calling him “Santa Claus” through a sneer.) Depending on what the scene calls for, Jeff swings between being a thoroughly kind adult who just wants to make people smile and an astonishingly childlike naif who thinks his flip phone is broken when a woman doesn’t text him back right away.
It also becomes apparent over the course of the four episodes reviewed that “Kidding” understands the idea of Mr. Pickles (who, as Seb puts it, is the smiling “$112 million licensing industry of edutaining toys, DVDS, and books”) far more than it does Jeff (a “separated husband and grieving father who needs to hammer out a few dents in his psyche”). And despite Seb’s insistence that there is a firm distinction between the two, the show and Carrey’s performance suggest otherwise.
As Jeff struggles to move forward through the sludge of his grief, he keeps getting stuck. He’s caught in a loop — attempting to bridge the gap between his Technicolor puppet utopia and the rapidly graying reality around him. And so, it seems, is “Kidding.” CREDITS: Executive producers: Dave Holstein, Jim Carrey, Michel Gondry, Michael Aguilar, Roberto Benabib, Raffi Adlan, Jason Bateman, Jim Garavente. 30 MIN. Cast: Jim Carrey, Judy Greer, Frank Langella, Catherine Keener, Cole Allen, Justin Kirk, Ginger Gonzaga
There’s a certain kind of true-life thriller that benefits from being made in a rough-around-the- edges way. “Operation Finale” is one of those films. It’s a drama about how Israeli agents from the Mossad and Shin Bet, in 1960, learned where Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi war criminal, had disappeared to — Argentina — and went on a hunt to capture him. They extracted him from a suburb of Buenos Aires, where he was hiding in plain sight, and brought him to Israel, where he stood trial for war crimes in the legendary 1961 courtroom marathon that was more than just the trial of one man. In many ways, it dragged the full awareness of Nazi atrocities onto the world stage for the first time.
The last thing you want a movie like this one to feel like is a slick Hollywood suspense drama with historical names plugged in. “Operation Finale” doesn’t feel like that, yet taken on its own Here’s how it really happened terms, the movie is at once plausible and sketchy, intriguing and not fully satisfying. Steven Spielberg set the gold standard for existential Mossad manhunt drama with “Munich,” where the action was heightened by a piercing sting of reality. “Operation Finale,” directed by Chris Weitz from a script by Matthew Orton, is like a patchy Tv-movie version of “Munich.” There are moments of fascination, but it’s hard to separate the catch-ascatch- can aspect of the Mossad’s hunting