Comedy-drama: Showtime (10 episodes, four reviewed); Sept. 9, 10 p.m. Starring: Jim Carrey , Judy Greer, Frank Langella
The last time Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry collaborated, they produced some of the best work of their respective careers. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” gave Carrey a chance to deepen his performance beyond his usual caricature, while Gondry found space for sharp moments of humor within his gauzy dreamscapes. So the prospect of these two coming back together after almost 15 years apart was an exciting one.
The result is “Kidding,” Showtime’s new drama-slash- comedy from “Weeds” producer Dave Holstein, about a kids’ show host trying to stay positive through a fog of grief. It aims to capture the kind of strange and bruising tone that made “Eternal Sunshine” so good; at times, it even succeeds.
But more often than not, “Kidding” feels caught between too many tones and ideas to become quite as distinctive as it could be. The series vacillates between uplifting anecdotes about the endless possibilities of kindness and deeply depressing shots of existential bleakness — sometimes on purpose, sometimes not so much.
At the heart of “Kidding” is Carrey’s Jeff (or “Mr. Pickles,” depending on his mood). No matter what he’s doing or who he’s meeting, this Mr. Rogers facsimile faces the world with a benign smile, his head tilted to exactly the right angle with which he can say, “How are you?,” “You’re like no one else” and “I’ve got you” all at once. Well-honed over 30 years of fronting “Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time,” this stance has made him the patron saint of childhood delight. But a year after one of his twin sons died in a freak car accident, he is closer than ever to cracking under the pressure of staying in one piece, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not.