Jim Carrey is best known for his slapstick humour, over-the-top facial expressions and ability to find a joke in any situation. But when you watch his dark comedy series Kidding (2018-current, now streaming on Showmax), you’re getting a very different Jim.
His character Jeff Piccirillo entertains kids by day as Jeff Pickles on his long-running puppet show Mr Pickles’ Puppet Time. But when the cameras stop rolling, Jeff shrinks back into a very dark, very deep hole of depression.
“This show is the idea of identity, the search for identity, what it is, who we are, what’s an authentic person – it’s a theme that has always been attractive to me.” – Jim Carrey
And it’s something Jim is all too familiar with, saying of his private life, “At this point, I don’t have depression. I had that for years, but now, when the rain comes, it rains but it doesn’t stay. It doesn’t stay long enough to immerse me and drown me anymore.”
The timeline jumps around a little in Kidding, so you’ve got to focus on when each scene is taking place. The show starts a year after the death of Jeff’s one twin son. Jeff is trying to make the best of a very difficult world that he finds himself living in. His wife Jill (Judy Greer) has thrown him out and she’s got a new boyfriend… or three.
Their son Will (Cole Allen – who plays dead son Phil in flashbacks) is rebelling in the most aggressive and abrasive ways (like swearing, smoking, trying to hide a beehive in his mother’s car). And Jeff’s dad Sebastian (Frank Langella) is doing everything in his power to hold the show he created – Puppet Time – together as Jeff falls apart and questions who he is.
“This show is the idea of identity, the search for identity, what it is, who we are, what’s an authentic person – it’s a theme that has always been attractive to me,” explains 57-year-old Jim.
“There’s something in this [show] that calls to me as far as the idea of being hit by a freight train in life and trying to hang on to the idea of yourself before it happens that’s really attractive.”
At every turn, Jeff feels like he’s being tested. He wants Judy to take him back. She’s got zero interest. He wants Will to behave and be a “normal” boy. The teen isn’t ready to confront losing his twin and won’t be told what to do. Jeff has new creative ideas for Puppet Time. But Seb uses his executive producer power to get his way – and no one says otherwise.
And that’s Jeff’s biggest problem: he wants his world of peace and it’s not going to happen. So he desperately clings to the positive in every situation even when the rose in his hand is rotten.
Kidding isn’t your typical comedy. It doesn’t make light of depression. In fact, it smacks you right in the face with a handbag weighed down with bricks. It’s bleak at the best of times, though not in the same way as The Handmaid’s Tale, for example.
Kidding is tackling something that exists here and now. Depression isn’t something you can understand until you’ve experienced it, which makes Jim’s casting even more important – because he knows what it’s like and can give it a face.
“Everything I do risks the total destruction of the piece. I’m often going, ‘God damn it, if this doesn’t work, I’ve put so much effort into this. But if you don’t do it, you’ll never reach some sublime thing, something that will really touch someone. Those are always the risks that go to the edge of destroying something you really care about,” says the actor.
A friend in need
The show is the brainchild of Dave Holstein, a former staff writer on dramedy series Weeds (2005-2012), but he says that the most important thing was getting Jim and director Michel Gondry (who directed Jim’s 2004 drama film Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind) onboard. After that, everything fell into place.
“Jim had had the script for about a year-and-a-half. His producing partner told me, ‘Jim has been reticent to do television because, from his perspective, that’s not where movie stars go to work. It’s where they go to die. But if Michel does it, Jim’s gonna do it.’ Michel was in LA for a whole 48 hours in-between filming a commercial in Chile. We had to make everything work during those 48 hours – and we did,” says Dave.