His new half-hour comedy Kidding is set to debut on Showtime next month, and it’s a role that’s allowing the legendary comic to draw on his past while doing something completely different.
Kidding is about Jeff, aka Mr. Pickles, an icon of children’s television and a beacon of kindness and wisdom to America’s impressionable young minds and the parents who grew up with him. But when this beloved personality’s family begins to implode, Jeff finds no fairytale, fable, or puppet will guide him through this crisis, which advances faster than his means to cope. The result: A kind man in a cruel world faces a slow leak of sanity as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.
The series is a kind of inverted Truman Show, which is exactly why Carrey wanted to bring it to life. “I think the idea of identity, the search for identity, who it is, what we are, has always been attractive to me,” he told the room of reporters at the 2018 Summer Television Critics Association press tour. “I think there is definitely something in this piece that calls to me as far as the idea of being hit by a freight train in life and trying to hang on to your true, former self. This came to me at a time when I’m well-schooled and experienced enough to do this part. I hope it culminates into something that really touches people.”
Throughout the first season, Jeff begins to push back against the limits of the well-oiled machine that is Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time, and of his executive producer, Seb (Frank Langella). Seb fears Jeff’s mental state could ruin the branding empire they’ve built, and thus begins preparing the show for a life after Jeff, while Deirdre (Catherine Keener), the head puppet maker, grapples with her own personal and professional life issues. Judy Greer also stars as Jeff’s estranged wife.
Creator Dave Holstein describes Carrey’s character as someone “who didn’t want to break bad but wanted to stay good,” and he doesn’t curse and he doesn’t lie despite struggling with everything changing around him. The show within the show, Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time, has been around for 30 years, as Jeff came up with it in college and his father decided to monetize it. That fatherly connection is something that was extremely important to Carrey in crafting who Jeff is, since it allowed him to touch on something deeply personal to him.
“I’m always drawing on my father especially playing a character like this,” he said. “I’d watch him performing and holding court in the living room, even before I knew what a joke was, and I saw the connection between my father and whoever was in the house and they left holding their bellies saying, ‘You missed your calling.’”
Kidding also reunites Carrey with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind genius Michel Gondry, who Carrey said is the “lynchpin” for why he joined the series. “I was incredibly interested in the material but getting to work with a teammate again, it was a thrill,” he said. “You learn to trust somebody and that has a lot to do with it. We have electricity between us.”
As for that haircut he’s sporting in Kidding, that came about when Gondry saw the haircut Carrey was rocking in real life and decided to make it character-specific. “I wanted to make it hard as possible for anyone to find me attractive,” he joked, before getting serious. “I don’t feel crazy at all, I think it’s good. To me it’s a juvenile, a children’s hairdo. It’s an arrested development type situation.”
Kidding premieres on Sunday, September 9 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.