‘Kidding’ Season 2 Finds an Even More Strangely Alluring Road Towards Emotional Recovery

The nature of sorrow and the effort to move ahead give the second season of Showtime’s “Kidding” an even richer texture. When the series first premiered it was engaging and strange, yet also slightly unfocused about how it was trying to get its themes across. There’s a fresh stride to it now. Jim Carrey finds a new depth to his role that makes it so much more than just another sad portrait.

Last season ended with a startling moment as kid’s TV host and divorced depressive Jeff Pickles (Carrey) ran over Peter (Justin Kirk), boyfriend of his ex-wife Jill (Judy Greer). Peter had just discovered Jeff had been creepily using a house in the neighborhood to essentially spy on Jill and son Will (Cole Allen). This accident forces everything out into the open. Naturally kind at heart, even as he loses his mind, Jeff can’t even lie to Jill for too long about how his car ended up hitting Peter. But any clashes over the situation have to wait. Peter now needs a liver transplant and Jeff willingly volunteers. Will suffers through the humiliation of all this and starts seeking forms of self-therapy. Jeff must also deal with the reality that his “Mr. Pickles” TV show is now off the air after 30 years due to fallout from a blunt speech about death he delivered on the air. Jeff’s sister Deirdre (Catherine Keener) continues to face divorce from her closeted gay husband, who now demands full custody of their child. 

“Kidding” conveys life’s sorrows with a hallucinatory style both innocent and twisted. Its premise has always essentially been the dark side of Mr. Rogers. Returning as executive producer is director Michel Gondry, a master of psychological landscapes in films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Again he makes sure the show seamlessly combines a raw sense of real life with Jeff’s flights of fancy. But like “BoJack Horseman” the visual surrealism does more than provide colorful experimentation, it fuels the drama itself. When Jeff decides to give Peter a new liver he descends into a fantasy during the operation where he speaks with his puppet characters from his TV show near a pond. Peter then appears and the two do a Disney-style sing along which has a cheery tone, but the lyrics are all about confronting each other over the tough situation Jeff has created. 

However this season is more about Jeff dealing with reality as opposed to losing his senses. Season one was very focused on how the divorce from Jill, and the lingering memories of the other son they lost in a car crash years ago, were making Jeff spiral into hallucinations and rages he would cover up with his always too friendly demeanor. Running over Peter pushes Jeff into the here and now. He decides to fire his producer father Seb (Frank Langella), whose main interest has always been to make sure advertisers and sponsors don’t flee from the show. He then embarks on a new toy venture with a talking Mr. Pickles doll that has a two-way radio communicator. This allows Jeff to sing to and literally chat with his devoted fans. Inevitably a new backlash ensues when parents figure out this oddball can speak directly to their children. 

Jim Carrey reveals more growth as an actor of drama centered on scarred souls. When “Kidding” first premiered he had already been experimenting with material in films like “Dark Crimes” where none of his legendary comedic persona ever made itself felt. In this second season of “Kidding” Carrey’s Jeff Pickles still carries the weight of his hidden, boiling emotions but is more willing to accept that he lost Jill and that their lost child is also part of painfully wonderful memories. He cuts his hair back down to the more recognizable Carrey look and it becomes a small but potent symbol of moving on. The brilliance of the Carrey performance is its authentic portrayal of hiding your true self. Whenever we see personas on TV who embody pure joy and a lack of cynicism, we wonder if the performer is actually that in real life. Carrey uses Mr. Pickles to explore when genuinely good people must still deal with pain and anger. Catherine Keener is also a stand out this season as Deirdre, who also steps into her own vices because of the complications surrounding her divorce, and has moments where she admits to having always felt like Jeff got special attention while she was left on her own.

“Kidding” is that rare show that has become something better and dramatically stronger in its second season. Visually it has the colors and tone of a pleasant childhood dream, but the set of Mr. Pickles’ show is just decoration for life as we must all endure it. Jim Carrey soars in continuing his interpretation of a mind and heart in crisis. Somber but not despairing, we want to follow Mr. Pickles on his road to recovery.

Kidding” season two premieres Feb. 9 and airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.