If you’re not sure yet about the meta-fictional hall-of-mirrors that is Showtime’s new comedy Kidding, here’s a piece of advice: Stick with the new Jim Carrey vehicle past the second episode. Really. The show is poised to get crazy good, but takes its sweet time getting there. Why? Because it’s all about the unraveling. As Mr. Pickles start to get crazier, the show gets way more compelling, becoming a deeply bizarre meditation on masculinity and what it means to be the good guy when no one likes you.
Over the weekend, Showtime aired the second episode of Kidding, titled “Pusillanimous,” in which Jeff confronts his wife’s new boyfriend and fights with his dad over the gender of one of the otters on his TV show. It’s a pretty good episode that builds on all the tension set-up in the pilot installment. But, if you’re not totally sold on this yet, keep watching through the third episode coming this weekend, and beyond. In a sense, the first two episodes are a combined pilot and should be viewed as such. They provide context for the third episode, which sees narrative takes over for the premise.
Once you move past that novelty (and ignore the Mister Rogers send-up) a new story starts to emerge. One that is less about a children’s show host and more about a guy who has lived a squeaky-clean lifestyle and now needs to cut loose a little bit. Without spoiling anything about episode three or the rest of the season, I can tease that the show becomes more about Mr. Pickles’ alter ego, Jeff, and what it means to be a man in the 21st century. In one early scene in episode three, there’s an emasculating conversation between Jeff’s producer (and father!) Seb in which Seb says that when someone looks at Jeff, “no one sees a man.”
“Thanks, dad,” Jeff replies, “But I am a man. I am. Just a different kind.”
A different kind of masculinity is what Kidding is poised to explore, which, on close analysis, is far more interesting than just riffing on kids TV show tropes and children’s media. Being a sensitive, quiet man is tough. There are suspicions and sidelong glances that come with that territory (witness the portion of the Morgan Neville documentary about Fred Rogers in which his wife insists he was straight). But, these men exist and courageously make their way in the world. Essentially, one could argue, this is a show starring Jim Carrey that explores what it’s like to be the opposite of Jim Carrey — and the idea that Jim Carrey is also that guy.
Jeff is a really interesting character that actually has a lot in common with Bill Hader’s character on HBO’s Barry, which has become a critical darling. These are men best known for what they do. Men who struggle to get a word in edgewise but remain murderously effective at their jobs. These are the sort of men you never used to see on television. Seeing Jeff depicted with real sensitivity is a thrill, especially for a wallflower.
Right now, Kidding is asking questions about how men can be accepted by other men without being raunchy, rude, or pushy. And as the story of Jeff Pickles unfolds, we might not like the answers to those questions.