Jim Carrey Gets Close to Total Meltdown in the Season Finale of ‘Kidding’

For its entire first season, Showtime’s “Kidding” has worked like a morbidly fascinating train wreck in slow motion. Seeing Jim Carrey in this show has been akin to witnessing a subdued volcano, just waiting to erupt. His is surely one of the year’s best TV lead performances, much of it because it truly feels as if Carrey is channeling so much of himself into it. Now in the season one finale, “Some Day,” we finally start seeing the meltdown of his character begin to reach the boiling point.

Still processing the despair from losing his son in a terrible car accident, children’s show host Jeff (Carrey), is slowly descending into a pattern of hallucinations disconnecting him from reality. It all comes to head when he’s invited to officially light the White House Christmas tree. During the broadcast Jeff takes the podium and instead of spreading holiday cheer, he gives a lengthy, brutally honest confession about abandonment and feeling guilty over the death of his son. His father and boss, Seb (Frank Langella) freaks out. Others like Jeff’s ex, Jill (Judy Greer) can’t help but feel moved. Just as it seems the network might pull the plug on Jeff’s show, “Mr. Pickels’ Puppet Time,” lines of children appear at the studio, looking for the honesty and solace seen on TV. But there are other situations brewing. Jeff’s sister Deirdre (Catherine Keener) has decided to get divorced from her husband, and Jeff’s surviving son Will (Cole Allen) continues to find himself with the lost teen crowd, partying and experimenting. The dark truth is emerging that while Jeff may be finding catharsis in his public reckoning with death, he himself can’t distinguish reality from hallucination, and is starting to get dangerously close to Jill, almost stalking her.

“Kidding” began its inaugural season as a quirkier cousin of other recent shows examining the twisted side of suburbia. But as the season progressed it became more about the central theme of internal suffering, and how a person who may appear collected on the surface is harboring explosive emotions. Jeff is obviously designed to evoke Fred Rogers, with his show a clear take on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” But what director Michel Gondry and creator Dave Holstein are doing is using the idea of such a sunny personality to explore real pain. Gondry directed Carrey in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” a film about wishing to literally erase a former lover from your memory. That film came out in 2004, since then Carrey has endured the painful loss of a girlfriend and has recently taken on more somber roles. In “Kidding” he is pure, walking, unprocessed hurt. This show has never been particularly perfect all season, with good strengths and noticeable flaws all through out. But Carrey’s performance has always stood above it all. His moment in “Some Day” when he opens up to the world in front of a microphone is written with an authenticity that feels quite raw. Carrey delivers the lines with a curious tenderness, like a hurt person pleading for understanding. But he is like a trauma survivor in denial. He sees literal puppets where there are people, his sister asks him who he is, who he sees himself as. He can only answer by asking the question back himself.

What “Some Day” makes tragically clear is that Jeff’s emerging breakdown has much to do with him trying to make real his fantasy involving restoring his marriage with Jill. The episode’s saddest moment takes place when Jill calls Jeff, telling him how much she was touched by what he did on the air, inviting him to visit whenever he likes. We see them playing catch with snowballs in a park at night, but it becomes clear Jeff is there alone, she’s just an illusion. Her new boyfriend Peter (Justin Kirk) makes the stunning discovery one night that Jeff has bought a house next door to them. If much of this episode feels like a quick recap of everyone, with few if any plot developments, the final crescendo is what truly delivers. Peter tells Jeff all he’s really doing is hurting Jill, and Jeff replies with his usual façade of understanding and quiet kindness. But when Peter says goodbye and lights a joint, here comes Jeff with his car, driving it right into the boyfriend. It is that burst of violence that has been coming for the last 9 episodes, that moment when Jeff’s inner turmoil takes on a new, physical form.

“Kidding” has worked best as a showcase for Jim Carrey as an actor of wide range. Two decades ago he was the definition of wild humor on the big screen, now he returns as an actor channeling different experiences into heartache and rage. Much of the narrative is actually sparse and avoids some of the overwrought density of other shows like “Here and Now.” But what “Kidding” lacks in story it has in its fascinating lead. Jeff, even in the throes of madness, is a character we follow because unlike many other TV personas, he actually does hurt in that way many of us have and do.

Kidding” season one finale aired Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.