Kidding S2E5 was that episode. Every classic, all-time great series has one. For Twin Peaks fans, it’s Part 8. For fans of The Sopranos, it’s “Pine Barrens.” In a more recent example, for fans of Barry, it’s “ronny/lilly.” This type of episode is one that departs from norms and indulges in something that makes that series special, and while the narrative might not have jumped forward at the rate of the rest of the series, there’s no doubt that you just watched something special. Kidding is a dark comedy that wants us to run to the light. It wants us to be able to laugh at not only the absurd but also the tragic. It wants us to know that life goes on and that healing is possible. Oh, and there’s puppets too.
Part of Kidding‘s magic is the dreamlike quality we experience when we join Jeff Pickles on set for his long-running children’s series. Here in the fifth episode, “Episode 3101,” that magic is back now that the show is returning. We spent the entire 30 minutes in an episode of Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time, which is a first for the series. Part Sesame Street, part absurdist humor, Mr. Pickles’s return to television dealt with not only his and Deirdre’s respective divorces but also the fact that Scott now legally owned half of the puppets from the show as part of his divorce from Deirdre. Much like children’s programming from years past, Jeff introduced heavy concepts to the children watching at home and used the puppets as a vehicle to help the children understand. In this particular episode, it was just as much about Jeff trying to accept his reality as helping the children.
It dawned on me halfway through this episode that we spent all of the first season wanting Jeff to grieve, wanting him to accept his reality, and here he was doing just that. It was deeply satisfying as a viewer to know that this particular problem of Jeff’s wasn’t going to carry on forever, the way other shows might make it. There’s actual progress being made here with Jeff’s mental well being. It’s not easy, and he doesn’t like the situation, but he’s putting in the work. For that matter, so is Deirdre.
“Episode 3101” introduced “DIY Deirdre” as a character in the series who showed up after an apparent earthquake destroyed many of the homes of the puppets. Deirdre is in a place where she does want to be on her own two feet. Her marriage is ending and she’s attempting to step out of her father’s shoes. On some level, she probably needs to believe that she is “DIY Deirdre” and joining the cast gives her that opportunity.
Then, of course, there’s Ariana Grande as Piccola Grande, a fairy of sorts who represents hope. Seeing Grande sing and dance alongside Jim Carrey and Catherine Keener as part of this children’s show really added to the surrealism of the series. Sometimes you genuinely can’t believe what you’re watching, yet it’s amazing and you don’t want to take your eyes off of it. Season 2 has already seen a really impressive list of guest stars but selfishly, I want more of Piccola Grande the most.
Throughout the episode, Jeff is waiting for Jill to arrive, telling the puppets that Nurse Jill is a good helper and that she can help them rebuild their homes. Before Jill’s arrival, it’s DIY Deirdre who explains to all that the puppets who lost their homes won’t be getting their homes back. It’s time for them to move to new homes, setting the stage for several of the puppets to leave the cast and begin the difficult discussion about divorce. By the time Jill arrived, emotions were high and we watched this couple who had been through so much, including the loss of a child, sign their divorce papers while singing along with the cast of characters in the show. Jill and Jeff expressed real emotion and real regret that their marriage didn’t work. They professed their love for one another and while legally ending their marriage, also taught children around the world that while divorce may feel sad, sometimes it’s ultimately for the best.
The next episode, “The Death of Fil” (S2E6), was a return to form in a sense. It was completely over-the-top funny with twinges of heartbreak between the laughs. The international market did not take kindly to Jeff’s episode about divorce, and in the Philippines, the local police stormed the set and killed the man who played the Mr. Pickles role. This shocking death kickstarted the action, which would result in all of the international versions of Mr. Pickles winding up on a boat together so they could lay their fallen colleague to rest at sea (in a giant barrel of course).
Prior to departing, Jeff has to stop by his old home to get his passport, leading to the amazing Justin Kirk as Peter confiding in him that he’s going to propose to Jill this weekend and wants Will to be present. Peter asks Jeff how he feels about this, pushing forward this awkward relationship and bond these two men have. In further signs of progress within Jeff, he hugs Peter and tells him that it’s a “complicated hug” but that he’s happy for both him and his now ex-wife Jill. Jeff is getting more comfortable in his own skin, to the point where he can still want the best for everyone around him without denying his own feelings at the same time. While getting his passport, Jeff manages to take Will’s as well, and Jill seems to be very guarded over the envelope with Phil’s name on it which contains the details of Phil’s organ donation. It seemed too deliberate to be coincidental. There’s more story left to tell there.
Once Jeff, Will, Deirdre, and Seb (along with a camera crew from 60 Minutes) made it to the boat with all of the other incarnations of Mr. Pickles, all hell broke loose. There was a strong feeling of resentment towards Jeff, not only over the divorce episode and the death that happened because of it, but also how Jeff had been handling the operation at large. One by one, all of the Pickles threw their ties at Jeff and Will, who stood with his Dad, in a sign of quitting. As Jeff and Will retreated inside the ship, the booze started flowing and all of these people who were living their lives trying to be just like Jeff Pickles let loose. A naked man flew across the ship like a pirate while another man lubed up a beer can, dropped his pants, and was getting ready to “make it disappear” only to have Deirdre steal the can. Seb interrupted an almost hook-up and walked off with the young lady himself, and Deirdre started throwing recording devices overboard. There’s no real way to do this justice in terms of how funny this scene actually was. All of these people who lived their lives like Jeff Pickles snapped, and anarchy broke out in the middle of the ocean.
Meanwhile, in their quarters, Jeff told Will that his mother was likely being proposed to (if she hadn’t been already). Will told his father of his plan to “make things how they used to be,” and your heart just breaks for Will. Here he is, barely a teenager, and all he wants is to fix his family, for his dead twin brother to be back, and for his parents to be together again. He wants his Dad to fight for his Mom, not to accept that she’s moved on. All this time, Jeff has been trying to gain acceptance of his reality, but his son doesn’t have that acceptance. We’ve seen Jeff try to help the children of the world understand divorce, but his own son is in pain over his parents’ marriage ending. Episode 6 ends with Will throwing his tie down in the same manner that all of the other “Mr. Pickles” had earlier. Jeff is left facing his son, who is emotionally devastated, and his entire world is once again on its head. The question, with four episodes remaining this season, is how does Jeff react this time? Until next time, Pickle Pals.