overnights

Kidding Recap: A Season About Things That Are Missing

Kidding

Pusillanimous
Season 1 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****

Kidding

Pusillanimous
Season 1 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Erica Parise/SHOWTIME

Mr. Pickles doesn’t seem to be doing much better, does he? This week’s episode continues to move the story along slowly, and primarily lingers on some interesting character moments. The Mr. Rogers parallels continue, too. The opening of the episode, where a group of people steal Mr. Pickles’ car, then realize it belongs to him so they return it? That’s based on a possibly true story about Mr. Rogers. It’s definitely a cute bit, and it looks like Kidding won’t be moving away from the Mr. Rogers parallels any time soon.

We get quite a bit more of the show-within-the-show — Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Timethis week, and the multimedia in-camera effect of Mr. Pickles going over a waterfall in a barrel is absolutely terrific. Michel Gondry is directing this show very well, but maybe just a straightforward kids’ show directed by Michel Gondry would be even better; those are the moments he gets to really play.

Mr. Pickles continues his reign of stalking terror by paying a surprise visit to a child in the hospital, specifically, the Jeff Pickles Children’s Wing of the fictional St. Joan’s Hospital. He chats with a kid getting brain surgery, then walks over to Jill, who’s working there. If you can imagine a worse nightmare than working in a hospital wing named after your creepy ex and festooned with images of him and the characters from his show, congratulations, you are a demon. He won’t even let her work until she tells him about her new boyfriend! Obviously, Mr. Pickles is dealing with some pretty severe trauma, but so is Jill Pickles and she doesn’t bother him at work. Also, he controls her checking account. Super cool.

Despite Mr. Pickles’ constant concern, his son Will does seem to be doing okay, all things considered. He’s falling in with a kind of bad crowd (going off campus to smoke weed is not ideal behavior for a 14-year-old but at least it’s not stalking), but he is also getting kind of weird, in a cool way. His high-as-balls jelly self-portrait is truly awesome. And also, the family’s real last name is Piccirillo, hence Pickles.

Mr. Pickles and Seb retread their argument from last week about Jeff’s desire to make the show more nuanced, but some of the chat takes place while Jeff’s being fitted for a hairpiece. At the end of last week, he decided to rebel against his image by shaving a chunk out of his hair, and within minutes of reentering his father’s orbit they’re using makeup magic to cover it up. It’s increasingly clear from their arguments that they’re not primarily disagreeing about the direction of the show — their whole father-son dynamic is toxic and spiteful and Mr. Pickles is acting out like a child to be defiant. Mr. Pickles’ arguments that the show must deal with painful feelings sound mature, but the more we see him whine and push back against his daddy the more clear it is that none of this is coming from a healthy place.

Also, Mr. Pickles describes seeing Will “smoking reefer like a jazz musician.” Like, what the hell? Is Mr. Pickles an adult who believes in kindness and decency, or is he a stern nun from a social-realism B-movie? He reminds me a lot of Felix in the original Odd Couple series. Sure, Oscar could be messy and boorish, but absolutely nobody is worse than the martinet jerk who calls cigarettes “cancer sticks.” I can hardly imagine how Jill stayed married for years to this controlling, simultaneously immature and condescending butthead.

We spend a bit of time this week with Deidre’s home life, including a truly hilarious beat about this kid who can’t do piano lessons without singing along as he plays. There’s also, of course, stuff about Deidre and the family (her husband and the piano teacher would hook up upstairs while Maddy practiced piano downstairs! Not appropriate!), but “Did you hand-fuck my husband?” doesn’t compare to Chuckie yelling random vocalizations to his scales. One nice touch, though: Diedre drinks chocolate syrup when she’s stressed out, just like her brother does. What went on in the Piccirillo house growing up?

Mr. Pickles is getting settled into his new house by walking around in the complete dark so Jill won’t see him while he watches her, their son, and her boyfriend have dinner and go to bed. At one point, Seb tells Mr. Pickles that the haircut makes him look like a mass shooter, but his uncontrolled violence and obsession with his ex do a lot more of the mass-shooter heavy-lifting.

And of course he stops by Jill’s house unannounced to demand a new custody agreement. If you’re watching Kidding and Epix’s Get Shorty, you’d think the central modes of storytelling are Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Custody Agreement. It’s not cute in either case. Mr. Pickles is clearly not a great person to be around and nobody would want him to have more time with his kid, who’s too cool for him anyway.

Especially since Jill’s dating Peter, played by Justin Kirk, who’s graying really well. Peter is considerate and friendly and looks like Justin Kirk. What’s not to love? When Mr. Pickles catches him smoking, Peter asks if Jeff’s ever had a vice. The only one Mr. Pickles can come up with is drinking chocolate syrup, and not even name-brand bottles. Mr. Pickles lives simply (he and Will both have non-smartphones), likely as a reference to Mr. Rogers, who had a reputation for spartan living despite his enormous inherited wealth and huge, gorgeous property. But of course sugar isn’t Mr. Pickles’ only vice; he doesn’t recognize that neither stalking nor pedantry are particularly virtuous. It’s a relief that Mr. Pickles doesn’t appear to use the internet, because it would take him like five minutes on YouTube to be a fully radicalized incel.

The episode mostly ends with another big blowup between Mr. Pickles and Seb. On set, Mr. Pickles starts referring to a male character (Astronotter) as “she.” When Seb asks him why, Mr. Pickles insists that he’s doing it to teach kids about gender fluidity. This is obviously not the case; a discussion about gender fluidity would be extremely appropriate for children’s television (and Adventure Time and Steven Universe have both explored gender and sexuality in thoughtful, challenging, developmentally appropriate ways), but Mr. Pickles is just trying to pick a fight with his daddy where he can seem like the good guy. Seb is absolutely limiting the show’s power to really move and educate children, but Mr. Pickles doesn’t care about that, really. He’s lashing out, and it’s getting worse, and his family is not safe.

Vocalization Practice for Piano Recitals

• This show has a great title sequence. It’s fun to see Michel Gondry’s distinctive style so well-deployed.

• “You look like Lee Harvey Oswald’s creative younger brother” is a great burn, but it’s hard to beat last week’s “You look like Rosa Parks’s bus driver.”

• Mr. Pickles needs to stop obsessing over the letter P standing for “pussy.” He’s acting like a 9-year-old.

• I love the way Kidding’s set and props are covered in Mr. Pickles–branded products, like his frozen dinner. For someone who so despises commercialization, Mr. Pickles really surrounds himself with its excesses.

• Peter tosses his cigarette butts on the ground (a truly disgusting habit) and Mr. Pickles left the gas on in his stalker house. THIS IS CHEKHOV’S CIGARETTE BUTT.

Kidding Recap: A Season About Things That Are Missing