What a Car­rey on

Damien Love’s pick of the week

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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

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