Monday 23 September 2019

Kidding preview: Jim Carrey makes huge impact as a kids' TV show star mourning his son

Kidding is on Sky Atlantic tonight, November 29, at 10.40pm

Jim Carrey in Kidding, Sky Atlantic
Jim Carrey in Kidding, Sky Atlantic

Pat Stacey

Steven Spielberg said about 20 years ago that if he’d been making Jaws at that point in his career, he’d have cast Jim Carrey as wisecracking oceanographer Matt Hooper, the character played by Richard Dreyfuss.

You can see why. Carrey, 36 at the time and winning rave reviews for The Truman Show, his first really successful dramatic role after the trio of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb and Dumber had catapulted him to movie stardom, would have brought the same kind of funny-but-serious touch to Hooper that Dreyfuss brought in 1975.

If anyone could have got the best out of Carrey, it’s surely Spielberg. In fact, the wonder is that the two men have never worked together.

Keeping such a brilliant, but often wild, talent on a tight leash is something few have managed. For proof, watch Carrey’s extraordinarily raw confessional documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, which details how the star’s exasperating method approach to playing the late Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon drove director Milos Forman and the rest of the cast to distraction.

Arguably, the only director since then who’s truly succeeded in keeping a lid on Carrey’s manic comedy impulses and teasing out his gentle and vulnerable side is Michel Gondry, who directed him in 2004’s wonderful, Charlie Kaufman-scripted Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Gondry is at the helm — at least for tonight’s opening two episodes — of Carrey’s first television role in almost 25 years in the 10-part comedy-drama Kidding.

Once again, he steers Carrey into some of the best work of his entire career as Jeff Pickles (real name Jeff Piccirillo), creator and star of the beloved children’s TV series Mr Pickles’ Puppet Time, which has been running on PBS for 30 years.

With his square clothes, naff bobbed hair, kindly personality, charming songs and array of folksy, homespun catchphrases such as, “Never use a bad word when you can use a good one”, Mr Pickles is clearly modelled on the late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, a long-running PBS children’s show that’s little-known over here, but is a revered cultural institution for several generations of Americans.

Many clowns are crying on the inside. Jeff is sobbing uncontrollably. He’s being eaten alive with grief over the death in a car crash of his son Phil (Cole Allen, who also plays Phil’s surviving twin brother Will).

For the kids of America, Mr Pickles is a rare thing: a trusted, grown-up friend who dispenses wise words of advice and support, but never patronises or talks down to them. To the parents of the kids of America, Mr Pickles is the best possible TV babysitter you could ever wish for.

His son Will, however, who’s coping with his own grief by smoking dope and crack with unsuitable friends, thinks his father is “a pussy”, and tells him so.

His wife Jill (Judy Greer) is about to divorce him and already has a live-in lover. To Jeff’s dismay, his one remaining son seems to be getting on better with this substitute father than with his real father.

Jeff’s sister Didi (Catherine Keener), who also happens to be the show's chief puppeteer, is having trouble of her own: she’s just discovered her husband is probably gay.

Jeff wants to put his grief to some purpose by making a show about death. But his producer Seb (Frank Langella), who also happens to be his father, puts the mockers on it by reminding Jeff that he and the character he plays are separate. Mr Pickles can’t afford to grieve; he’s the brand name stuck on a multimillion dollar merchandising empire that literally keeps the show on the road.

Anyone expecting big belly-laughs or the return of the full-on funny Carrey is looking in the wrong place. Kidding’s tone is wildly uneven in places.

Carrey, though, is marvellous as a man who’s begging for the time and space to simply feel sad, but finds no one wants to listen to him.

3 stars

Kidding is on Sky Atlantic tonight at 10.40pm.


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