It's important to be honest; that's the theme of KiddingSeason 2. In the spirit of that edict, I will confess that television critics are basically groomed to find faults in your favorite shows. That's what the job is. So I must also disclose that I loved the first season of Kidding so much that I was emotionally prepared to hate the second because it seemed like an impossible task to out-do the first effort. Well, shame on me for calling myself a fan of this show and still being a pessimist.
Season 1 of Kidding, for all of its whimsy melancholy and absurdity, was a pressure cooker for Jeff Pickles (Jim Carrey), a Fred Rogers-esque children's show host in the midst of a nervous breakdown after the death of one of his twin sons. Jeff ardently tried to find a way to grieve -- namely by sharing it on his TV show -- but was blocked by his overprotective father, Seb (Frank Langella). Failing to find another healthy outlet for his emotions, Jeff's anger and misery boiled until he snapped and ran over Peter (Justin Kirk), his ex-wife's (Judy Greer) new boyfriend, with his PT Cruiser.
Season 2 picks up mere seconds after the accident with Jeff calling for help and Jill making the assumption that the whole thing was an accident. The sophomore season could have continued to build on Jeff's trauma by having him continue the facade in order to ensure Jill and his remaining son, Will (Cole Allen), remained in his life. Remember, it's important to be honest, though. Instead of setting Jeff up for disaster, Season 2 is about him facing his mistakes, faults, and grief head on -- and it is fascinating to watch.
Another thing TV critics have been groomed to do, especially in recent years, is to complain about the amount of television on the air and use reviews to recommend whether a show breaks through the noise of "Peak TV" or not. There's no denying there are a lot of shows on TV, but what makes Kidding unique is that it doesn't use emotional manipulation within its story to keep you interested or invested in the characters. The Piccirillo family feel like real people with real problems and the show doesn't feel the need to doctor those problems to make them more interesting. It feels ironic to say that a season of television that includes Ariana Grande as a pickle fairy, a Dalai Lama dance break, and potential time travel should be admired for its ability to keep it simple, but it's true. Kidding gets extremely creative with how it talks about Jeff's and his family's issues, but it doesn't use those creative devices to avoid talking about the real problems.
If Season 1 was a pressure cooker, Season 2 is more of a spiral. Everyone in Jeff's immediate circle has to face up to their sins, and even if some fare better than others, the collective reckoning makes a hell of a mess to clean up. As Jeff finally starts being honest, he must deal with the consequences of those admissions, and the consequences of the coping mechanisms he develops to deal with the consequences of those admissions. The show transforms as we move through different stages of Jeff's story, sometimes working as a buddy stoner adventure, or other times a crime thriller that would make HBO's Sunday night lineup. There's even a stand-out episode midway through the season that takes viewers through an entire installment of Jeff's show Puppet Time as he has to finally accept the end of his marriage. Eventually things escalate to a government homicide and worldwide Pickle coup, but even with the insane details, the story is still about a man trying to heal and help his family after an unspeakable loss, and Kidding never loses sight of that.
The honest spine of the season allows for Carrey to deliver perhaps the most grounded performance of his storied career, anchored by Greer who should have all the tape she needs now to convince Hollywood she's much more than the best friend in your collection of rom-coms. A special shout-out also goes to Juliet Morris, who plays Jeff's niece Maddy and makes Maddy's borderline sociopathy disturbing and hilarious. Cole Allen shined in Season 1 doing double duty as the surviving Will and his deceased twin Phil, but brought a lightness to Season 2 when it became apparent that Will was a normal kid of divorce who longed to see his parents reunited. Allen made the reveal of the earnest wish feel simultaneously endearing and heartbreaking. Langella should also get special commendations for making an audience sympathize with a surly Seb as old age begins to get the better of him.
If Kidding ends with Season 2, it would feel like a satisfying end for Jeff's story, but I genuinely hope it's not the end. This gem of a show has so much to say about grief, heartbreak, healing, family, and more, and it does in such a beautiful blend of fantasy, melancholy, and truth. Showrunner Dave Holstein is a visionary and his voice is a unique addition to the aforementioned crowded TV landscape. With or without a Season 3, Kidding is a gift, and we should all be grateful for it.
TV Guide Rating: 5/5
Kidding premieres Sunday, Feb. 9 at 10/9c on Showtime.