What a Carrey on
Damien Love’s pick of the week
Kidding 10pm, Sky Atlantic Thursday
Ihave just met my favourite TV character of 2018. His name is Ennui Le Triste. He is French, and he’s plagued by constant feelings of boredom and sadness. Some of the causes for this nagging melancholy are hard to name or pin down, existing on the existential plane. But others are easier to diagnose. For example: one of the reasons Ennui is sad is because he has never been able to whistle. And the main reason for this is because he is a baguette, and his tongue is made of Brie.
Ennui is one of the fuzzy supporting cast assembled in Kidding, a 10-part series built around the star turn by Jim Carrey as Jeff Piccirillo, aka Mr Pickles, host of Mr Pickles’ Puppet Time, a longrunning children’s TV show that has made him a beloved national treasure.
Alongside the gloomy Gallic breadstick, some of Jeff’s other puppet pals include Astronotter, an otter who is also a frustrated astronaut, with a rocket made of twigs; Uke-Larry, a ukulele who strums himself; and Sopascum, a big damp blob who lives in a bathtub.
All Mr Pickles’s puppets are there to help kids learn to cope with problems in life, but Jeff has a problem of his own he’s not yet been able to deal with. One of his young sons has been killed, wiped out in a brutal instant when a truck ploughed into the family car.
Kidding opens a year after that tragedy. Jeff’s marriage has broken down. His wife has moved out with their resentful, hurting other son, and she has a new boyfriend.
Still, Jeff has been ambling along same as ever, doing his show, and presenting to the world his habitual, kindly, gee-whizz face. But behind that friendly façade, something is frozen and fractured. And now the cracks are creeping up to the surface.
The Carrey of Kidding is not the wild and crazy Carrey. Rather than The Mask, he plays a man who wears his own face like a mask, and is beginning to realise he isn’t sure what lies behind it. The series takes loose inspiration from the figure of Fred Rogers, the host of the American kids’ TV institution Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood, who was known for never breaking his gentle, benevolent, optimistic screen character in real life.
It asks how such otherworldly optimism can possibly survive, or if it even has a place, amid all the crap and horror life throws at us: death, sickness, violence, abuse, crime, exploitation.
Yet amid this bleakness come moments of hope and magic, as, unknown to Jeff, we catch glimpses of people who have been touched by his TV show, and inspired to try and be slightly better human beings as a result. At least sometimes.
The series is notable for reuniting Carrey with filmmaker Michel Gondry, who directed the bulk of the episodes, and last worked with him on 2004’s similarly cracked and probing Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Gondry brings Jeff’s handmade TV show to ultra-vivid life. But as Jeff’s troubles grow, he also begins to infect his offscreen life with slightly surreal, slightly sinister touches.
The series is uneven and hard to get hold of. But that’s what makes it interesting. The entire thing has the feel of a parable. Surrounded by puppets, Jeff’s name “Piccirillo” has a passing echo of Pinocchio. As he tries, late in life, to break free of his own wooden public image, it’s the story of someone trying to become more human, even though he isn’t sure what it means, or if he even really wants it.
Jim Carrey in Kidding