Sunday, September 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'Kidding' - Jeff Believes a Powerful Episode About Death and Grief Could Be Life-Changing in 'Green Means Go'

Showtime's Kidding - Episode 1.01 "Green Means Go"

Jeff Pickles decides it's time to talk about death on Mr. Pickles' Puppet Time. His executive producer, Seb, warns him that Mr. Pickles the persona and Jeff Pickles the person need to remain separate - and that the latter can't change. Deirdre punishes her daughter Maddy for not eating her veggies.

Kidding opens a year after tragedy. Jeff is keeping his public persona going. The world around him is having to adjust to the news that his son was killed in a tragic car accident. Jeff wants to believe that he is ready to talk about the feelings of grief and loss in a meaningful way. He runs against opposition that tell him he needs to be upbeat and positive all of the time. And yet, it's also clear that this tragedy has affected everyone in Jeff's family in a very unique and interesting way. They aren't all grieving in the way that Jeff wants them to. He is growing more and more furious because he's not allowed to talk about it on television. He wants to produce an episode of his show named Mr. Pickle's Puppet Time in which he openly discusses this with a group of kids. He doesn't see any difference between his personal and professional lives. This is simply who he is all of the time. He's a guy incredibly naive about the world around him. He doesn't curse. He doesn't like vulgar activities. He chastises people for getting tattoos. He believes he's completely pure and clean. But it's clear that there is a rage within him that is just bursting to come out. He believes in being happy and kind. That is the best way for a person to behave in the world. And yes, that is very optimistic and appreciated. But it's also delusional because it appears as if Jeff has gone through his entire life not realizing that the people around him don't abide by the same rules. It's perfectly aspirational for him to put on this show to teach children how to be better. It has been a success after 30 years for a reason. He is a very wise teacher. But there still needs to remain a separation. Jeff wants to produce this very specific show because it's something personal to him and not dictated by one of the sponsors. He just has no idea how to do it in a meaningful way that won't leave children traumatized and destroy the show in the process.

But again, Jeff is bottling up his emotions. This is a very restrained and delicate performance from Jim Carrey. He's not going completely zany and outrageous. Instead, he's playing a guy who has been comfortably living a very specific life for a long time. Jeff had a wife and twin sons. He had a successful show where he put a ton of positivity out into the world. And then, a random act of violence occurred that took his son Phil away from it. That led to an entire snowball effect that exposed the cracks that have always been lingering under the surface. Now, Jeff is living a depressing life in a studio apartment away from his remaining son and wife. He believes all he has to do is keep showing up and his happiness will be returned to him. All he has to do is put on a performance of one of his hit songs on his wife's favorite late night talk show to win her back. As such, it allows some cameos from Conan O'Brien and Danny Trejo. That's a random pairing for this guy to also be interacting with. And yet, that also highlights his ability to bring people together. He gets the entire audience and the crew singing along to this song. He has made an impact on the world. He believes this is the grand romantic gesture that will immediately fix everything that broke following that tragic car accident. But all it does is further highlight that Jill is already too far gone for Jeff to win back. She is grieving in her own way. She is doing things according to her own schedule. The marriage failed because Jeff struggled to be real and genuine with her. And now, he's stuck in this life of trying to keep things as normal as possible even though he is no longer wanted here. Jill doesn't want to be his wife. She is moving on and trying to be happy again. Him coming to that realization is very slow and hints that there is so much darkness lurking under the surface.

Plus, Jeff still has another son who is struggling with the aftermath of surviving this accident too. Will has the freedom to visit Phil's grave and have a big personal reaction to the death of his identical twin brother. He is lashing out at his parents not because they are getting divorced but because they are selfishly putting their own needs above his. They aren't genuinely asking how he's dealing with all of this. Instead, they just see a rambunctious preteen who is being blandly bad and needs to be reigned in. The family wants him to be the perfect son to make up for the loss of the other one. They want him to be immediately okay because it's been a year and they can't handle any more tragedies. Instead, Will is knocking down beehives and trying to plant them in his mother's vehicle. When that doesn't work, he throws it onto his brother's grave. He blames Phil for dying. He holds that animosity to his twin. Those feelings are going to push him into doing even more reckless things. He still feels ashamed and guilty when his father sees him smoking drugs in the cemetery. He doesn't partake in them. But he still keeps being friends with those bad influences who he just randomly met at his brother's grave. They are only going to indulge these actions further. They may be the simple relief that are only masking the true emotions. Jeff is trying to get his son to talk. But he's also blindly telling him that he needs to be a good steward in the world. He has to always do the right thing because it's beneficial to the rest of humanity. It's just easier to be a good person. But instead, Will only wants to lash out and traumatize the family that is looking at the house next door.

And so, Jeff is just wandering around his life trying to prove that he is capable of change and doing things differently. However, all of it comes across as impulsive actions that he hasn't thought through. He is actually acting like a child who doesn't get what they want. He is furious that his wife is seeing someone new. He has made all of these plans to win her back. He went on Conan and bought the house next door. But those only highlight the obsession he has with maintaining order and control over his life. He is suddenly faced with the prospect that not everything is perfect and happy all of the time. He's also failing to take his own advice. In song, he is telling children that they should always be willing to talk about their emotions even if they don't know what they are feeling. Jeff isn't doing that. He's just keeping everything bottled up and putting so much pressure on this one show. In this one episode, he can talk profoundly about death and what he has lost in this world. It will be enough to change the hearts and minds of so many people. His executive producer Seb doesn't believe it's a good idea. Jeff and his television persona need to be kept separate. Jeff has to go on this journey of personal exploration by himself. He needs to figure out how he is coping before he just goes up on that stage to talk about it to children. He needs to have some clarity on the message he wishes to send. Instead, he just gets the show to produce this episode with the understanding that it will air the following day. All he really offers to the children is that it's okay if people or items are left behind because then someone else will get to enjoy them. This metaphor really doesn't work for the context of his grief. He believes it will immediately fix everything and it doesn't. It just leads to more rage because he can blame Seb for the reason why it doesn't air.

Again, Jeff is so destructive throughout this episode. One moment he is pouring water on the neighbor's yard after his dog peed on it. And then the next, he is destroying their mail box. That's the object of his anger. He lashes out and it feels good momentarily. The show doesn't feature Jeff in this moment of destruction either. It just cuts to the aftermath of the action. The audience understands what's going on with him. And later on, he breaks the kitchen sink in the house he is trying to buy. In that moment, the audience actually sees him doing it. It's almost a blind rage that he isn't even aware of. He happens to be holding the sink and creepily staring at his wife as she is embraced by a new man living in the house. It's just an instinctual reaction for him. And yet, violence can never become just a simple reaction to any kind of bad or disappointing news. Jeff has latched onto the idea that the color green means go. It's the lesson that he continually teaches the children on his show. It's the only direction that comes out of his lesson about the colors. It's clearly something personal to him. He is furious with the driver of the truck that ran into the van. He just doesn't accept that a malfunctioning traffic light was to blame. That is too random and chaotic for something of this magnitude. His son is dead and there needs to be a reason why. Even if Jeff never knows why, he needs to find something to grab onto in order to cope with what happened. Right now, he's just choosing the wrong behavior while bottling up his own true feelings. It's such precise character work that is going to become so explosive sooner rather than later. Everyone is doing their best to indulge him with the fantasies that he has. And yet, they can only encourage him to a point. After that, it's clear that he needs professional help.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Green Means Go" was written by Dave Holstein and directed by Michel Gondry.
  • It's treated as a big surprise that Seb, the executive producer of Jeff's show, and Deirdre, the head puppet maker, are also Jeff's father and sister. For the majority of the episode, they are just seen through that professional context. It highlights how the lines continue to blur as to what's real and what is just a performance. But everything is allowed to be real for Seb and Deirdre because they don't have to go on camera and actually deliver a message of positivity to children.
  • Deirdre is also in a really lackluster subplot about trying to get her daughter, Maddy, to eat her vegetables. It's such a simple parenting struggle. Maddy is pushing back for a very meaningful reason. But Deirdre doesn't know what it is until the very end. Instead, this story is mostly just an attempt to offer levity because Maddy spends several days without taking a shower or bath. As such, everyone notes that she smells.
  • Of course, there is tragedy looming on the horizon for Deirdre as well. She learns that her husband, Scott, is having an affair with their next-door neighbor. Maddy saw the two of them engaging in a sexual act right on the driveway in the middle of the day. As such, it's potentially traumatic for her. But it's also going to be more meaningful to see if Deirdre bottles up these emotions just like her brother does.
  • Jeff is even stuck in the old routine of going out to the baseball field when the little league teams are playing and supporting them as if Phil is still there. That's random and shows how stunted Jeff may be. And yet, Jill is there as well. It's a much more emotional experience for her though because she is actually grappling with the reality that Phil isn't there and the lingering smells are the only thing that is left.
  • Jeff also impulsively shaves a huge chunk of his signature hairstyle off. Now, it wouldn't be such a bad thing for him to get an updated style. That's another aspect of the show that Seb isn't looking to change at all. Mr. Pickles has a distinct look. But this could force his hand. It's Jeff trying to keep control over his life in response to Seb telling him that they were never going to air the episode talking about death.