It's been over 25 years since Jim Carrey has starred in a television show and he makes his grand return back to the small screen in a role that fits him like a glove. He plays the Mr. Rogers-esque Jeff Pickles in Showtime's dark dramedy Kidding.
The show comes from Weeds producer Dave Holstein and the first two episodes are helmed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry. Together, these three men created a truly heartfelt and offbeat series about a man who represents the best of us on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The show is simultaneously adult in its humor while still living in the world of a PBS educational program. Puppets and dream sequences add a whimsical essence to a show that's sharpened by traumatic cut-to scenes that help show how Jeff's usual idyllic mental state is being crushed by the melancholy of the real world.
TV Guide talked to Dave Holstein about how he created this unique world and how teaming up with Carrey and Gondry brought the magic to life.
Was the tone of the show we have now the same tone as when you started writing the show eight years ago or did it develop over time?
Dave Holstein: The tone [of the premiere], was the same tone from the pilot from five years ago. It came off of writing with Jenji Kohan on Weeds, and sort of understanding the limits of tone and also how little tone matters sometimes.
You mentioned at the premiere that you had a very collaborative process with both Jim and Michel when coming up with the show that we're seeing now. How did they help bring this vision to life?
Holstein: It's hard to point to large, specific moves everyone made, but when you're in a room with two people that offer something very smart, and very different, that you arrive at a place where you couldn't have arrived without each other. And I think that we all did a good job of raising the bars for each other, while checking each other's blind spots in a general sense.
...What was really fun was getting into the world of the show within the show with the two of them, because so much of that was not spelled out in the pilot, and so there was a lot of freedom to build a world within our world that was an extension of the main characters' imagination. And I think we all got some lovely contributions into that...Jim really had a lot of great instincts with what the character would wear. The Puppet of the Oops was entirely Jim's idea. The Oops is this puppet that sort be featured a little bit in the season, but you see it throughout, that its kind of got this backwards face, and it's got a sweater that's inside out, and it's got air propulsion pushing it's arms up and down. Jim really wanted a puppet on the show that was about teaching kids it's okay to make mistakes, so that puppet is always making mistakes and then we use that for dramatic effect later in the show.
Speaking specifically about Jim, how much did the the character of Jeff Pickles change once he signed on compared to what you originally had on the page?
Holstein: I wrote it with Jim in mind. I wrote this with the Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine Jim Carrey in my head, and that meant that this is always going to be as dark and as melancholy as Jim wanted it to go, you know. It really didn't change that much totally, from how I'd originally envisioned. I like to say Jim Carrey does a great Jim Carrey, you know. I've always had him as the high water mark for that character, and then to actually see him do is ridiculously mind blowing.
The Mr. Rogers comparisons are sort of unavoidable in this situation. How did it make you feel that Mr. Rogers is also having a resurgence of his own in this moment, thanks to the documentary that just came out? This show is sort of showcasing a real side to what could have been Mr. Rogers.
Holstein: Look, I think that what Mr. Rogers represented was someone who was truly and earnestly kind, you know. He wasn't playing a character, he was a really kind person who wanted to help people, and he did that through the medium of television. When you turn on the TV now, you get kind of the opposite of that, right? You get a bunch of people lying, and being cynical, and insulting each other, and I think that the reason why that documentary came out when it did and this show is coming out when it did, is I feel there must be a demand and a desire for that voice again in our cultural conversation, you know?
I mean I won't dance around it, I think when you have a president who's language is insult and mendacity, it only serves to demand like what's the foil of that? What's the counter voice of that, you know? And to me the answer to that was someone like Mr. Rogers. Clearly we're not the only project to believe that.
Kidding premieres Sunday, Sept. 9 at 10/9c on Showtime.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company)