MHAM: ‘Kidding’ (2018) and Being Scared of “I Don’t Know’s”

Kidding has quietly become one of the best shows on TV in recent years. It hasn’t had much fanfare and promotion and it hasn’t been as much of a wild success as some other comedies in recent years such as Barry and Atlanta. However, it has cemented itself as a show regularly dealing with heavy issues in a way that is accessible to many.

To set the scene for you, Jim Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, a children’s tv show icon in the ilk of Mr. Rogers. His show features puppets and songs and has been running for over 30 seasons with his sister, Deirdre (Catherine Keener), who helps to design the puppets. Unfortunately, personal tragedy has hit Jeff hard, making him question the show and how he uses his voice to speak to audiences. The death of one of his sons and the collapse of his marriage have left him lonely but still with a nearly unflinching desire to see the good in the world. This leads us to the episode I’m focusing on, Episode 3101. Taking place solely within the world of Mr. Pickles Puppet Time, the show deals with a struggle we all face at some point: moving on.

The episode starts with Jeff and his puppet pals finding their town destroyed, where the residents who lost their home have to move away from Pickleberry Falls. This is the story the show comes up with when in reality a bitter divorce between Deirdre and her husband means she lost the rights to half of all the puppet time characters she designed. The characters try to fix their houses with the help of Deirdre but when it doesn’t work they begin to blame her. This is when the main story of the show takes focus, Jeff struggling with the disintegration of his marriage. He has his divorce papers to sign and his wife, Jill (Judy Greer), even comes on the show at his request. The episode becomes about his struggle with letting go of the past.

Image courtesy of Showtime

In this episode, one line stood out to me in a scene shared between Jeff, Jill, and Ennui, a talking french baguette. When Ennui asks Jeff and Jill if they still love each other and they both say yes, he doesn’t understand why they are going to divorce. Jill says, “sometimes in life, there are problems that can’t be solved. No matter how much we love each other, love, even a lot of love is not enough to keep us together.” It’s a moment that hits hard, whether it’s for those who have been involved in a divorce, a breakup, or even just an unpredicted change in life. Ennui admits he is scared of the, “I don’t know” ahead, so Jeff leans in and whispers, “I’m scared too.” Suddenly, that happy, smiling mask has fallen. We realise that Jeff is like anyone else and is scared of the future.

Perhaps it is having someone so well known for their comedy exploits in the main role that makes the emotional moments hit so hard. Carrey is a staple in so many people’s childhoods, starring in roles such as Ace Ventura and The Mask. His more dramatic work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Man on the Moon show that he has the range, but with Kidding, you see a legacy being explored. Carrey knows his persona and is able to utilise that in order to disarm you. You feel safe around him much as you would around Mr. Rogers because of that familiarity.  When you see this man of laughter and joy struggling, you realise it’s okay to be not okay. Even those with a nearly unbreakable persona still struggle with change in their lives.

Image courtesy of Showtime

What will stand out to a lot of people in this episode is the musical number from Ariana Grande appearing as the Piccola Grande. It may seem like just another cameo appearance to help drum up interest, but instead this song gives us the show’s main motif. “Hope is an open door. Maybe getting back up again is what falls are for.” Jeff and Piccola sing together as we see the puppets begin to depart into their “I don’t know” future. It’s a touching moment to top off an incredibly impactful episode. The show has often avoided showing much from Mr. Pickles Puppet Time but here it shows how powerful immersion can be.

Moving on is perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with in life. We all suffer heartache in life, but it’s how we cope and process it that allows us to grow. There isn’t a guide on dealing with pain but shows like Kidding help. They show that everyone hurts and grieves in their own way. If someone like Mr. Pickles or Mr. Rogers can so openly speak on pain, then maybe we can all be a little more open about our feelings.