The fifth episode of Showtime’s Kidding, titled “The New You,” was a tightly packed 30 minutes of television that not only drew the viewer closer to Jeff Pickles but also did an excellent job in humanizing him even more. Each week the show has been peeling back a bit more of the onion and giving us more of the “real” Jeff, slowly showing chinks in his larger than life, filled with love and goodness television personality. This week was the biggest step forward yet as the anger that lives inside Jeff, coupled with a desire to be needed took center stage.
The episode began with a flashback of Jeff as a child playing hockey, with his father, Seb, in the stands encouraging Jeff to beat up another kid, and Jeff punching the other kid repeatedly. The show chose to use a less realistic and more cartoonish look for the fight scene (which would replay in Jeff’s head later in the episode), almost as if it was representing how Jeff was struggling to come to terms with the violence from his own past. He was starting to remember, which is ultimately the important part, but his mind still required a filter of sort as protection.
Jeff’s developing relationship with Vivian appears to be a catalyst of sorts for Jeff’s coming to terms with his feelings and not just being the television character Mr. Pickles all the time. In a dinner scene with Vivian, Jeff told Vivian that he was like Mt. Saint Helen’s in 1980 and his anger was the lava ready to spill over. It was a genuine moment; a dropping of the guard from Jeff that we’ve been rooting for to happen since Episode 1. In a scene later in the episode, Jeff’s son Will would explode on his father, firmly vocalizing that he needs his father to not always know everything and just listen. This need for Jeff to drop the Mr. Pickles persona and just be Jeff with his estranged wife and son has been quite transparent for a while now, but Will saying it out loud was a big step forward this week.
The title of the episode—“The New You”—really did play into almost the entire episode, most noticeably in the scenes between Jeff, his sister, and his father. As Seb explained his plan to Deidre and Jeff (although in different terms to each of them) in this episode, what was being strongly hinted at before became out in the open this week: Seb is preparing (quickly) for the day when Jeff is no longer a part of the show. Seb tried to spin it to Jeff as it being a good thing; such as hiring writers so Jeff could have more time to spend with Will. And even Deirdre got in on the spin act as she tried to tell Jeff that a cartoon version of him, as well as Tara Lipinski portraying Mr. Pickles on ice, didn’t make him expendable and was no different from the international markets Mr. Pickles appeared in. Jeff saw right through it and even confronted his father about always wanting to replace him. Later in the episode, we see Seb pick up Will from school to confront him about smoking pot. In a method Jeff surely wouldn’t approve of, Seb smokes pot with Will before launching into his lecture about giving up drugs. When Jeff found out about this later, it was yet another area of his life he felt he was being replaced in.
We got more backstory on the history of the show this week as Seb recalled Jeff coming to him in 1987 to talk about a children’s show he was producing in college. Seb reminded Jeff of their deal—as long as most of the money went towards charitable causes, Seb could call the shots. That bit of dialogue really painted a long term picture of their relationship—Seb has always wanted to double down on the brand and reap the financial rewards, but Jeff was always too popular and loved to wrestle control away from. Seb, whose killer instinct and ruthless nature (as displayed in the flashback where he insisted that Jeff pound the other kid on the ice) has finally found his opportunity to force Jeff out and control the business. Controlling Deirdre is a big part of Seb’s power play.
Deidre has also been in an emotional downward spiral since Episode 1, with her marriage failing and her struggle to come to terms with the fact that her husband is gay. This week, she finally said the words out loud to her father, who quickly dismissed them. Much the same as how he insisted that Jeff re-shoot the scenes where he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, Seb needs his children to be stuck in their pain and not healing so he can control them. In a family that produces a show about puppets, Seb is the ultimate puppet master. If Jeff and Deirdre began to heal, Seb couldn’t finally run this business the way he wants to. An invisible clock is now hanging in the background: what happens first, the siblings escaping their pain, or Seb taking over the business? Does it matter?
As we’ve now passed the halfway point in this first season, I found myself thinking about how masterful the pacing has been so far. At this point, the characters and their issues have been firmly established; the conflict has built slowly but steadily at the same time. The quality of acting in this show is top notch, and no matter how little screen time a character gets, it feels like they make the most of it. Take Judy Greer this week, for example. In a scene in the bathtub with her new boyfriend where they explored a playful intimacy technique they discovered online, you saw her character Jill completely relaxed and able to enjoy the moment; yet you know that under the surface all of the pain referenced in previous episodes is still very much there. She’s trying to move forward, trying to heal and practice what she preaches, yet the very real human struggle is on display. It’s amazing acting and brilliant writing and direction.
The ending of this episode was a cliffhanger of sorts as we saw Will break into the home we know (but Will doesn’t) that Jeff bought and left the stove on heat. As Will and his friends entered the house, we saw the gas meters in the final scene of the episode, leading us to wonder how much danger these kids are in. How will Jeff react if something does happen, knowing not only that he bought a home he shouldn’t have next door to his family, but also that he left the stove on? Much like the guilt that Jill carries for being the one driving the car when Phil died despite it not being her fault, Jeff is now in a similar position with their other son. If something does happen to Will, will Jeff be able to recover?