Jeff is really starting to acknowledge some of his anger! Sebastian remains convinced that Jeff’s hurtling toward disaster, but this week did really have some good moments of thoughtful conversation for Jeff and for Will in particular. Also, an even more horrifying use of a sock puppet than the tooth monster from last week.
This episode returns twice to a flashback/fantasy sequence of young Jeff playing youth hockey. The design elements in these scenes are so surreal and presentational it’s hard to describe it fully as a memory: Seb screams at Jeff to beat up another kid and Jeff pounds the kid so hard he leaves blood on the ice that the Zamboni can only smudge it. It’s scary and immersive and unreal and a great reminder of what a relief it is for a big-name movie director to take on a series and actually make it feel visually distinct from other shows.
After Jill lit into Jeff last week, it looks like he really listened to her and understood her point. JK: When she said she hated being guilted out of buying new shoes, he heard “Buy yourself fancy new shoes, Jeff.” They’re not just any shoes: they tinkle as he walks. Until now, Jeff stuck to the Mr. Rogers–style sneakers (which Fred Rogers started wearing so he couldn’t be heard running backstage from one set to another on his first TV series The Children’s Hour). He’s splurging on himself, which is fine, but I don’t really think Mr. Pickle’s personal attitude toward austerity was the biggest issue for Jill. As we soon learn, it wasn’t just Jill whose finances Jeff controls: his father and sister are required to donate the majority of what they make to charities.
Jeff’s fancy new shoes also take center stage at his date with Vivian, where their constant rattling telegraphs his nervousness. Here, finally, he articulates why he’s been freaking out lately: “I have a tremendous amount of pent-up anger. And I don’t know where it’s coming from or how to stop it.” Great first step, Jeff, but too bad you screamed and swore at a table for being wobbly first. Vivian’s into it though! They start to get hot and heavy outside, and she tells him that she’ll be texting him the letter V from now on whenever she fantasizes about him.
His relationship with Vivian is putting Jeff in a much better mood, to the extent that he’s written a song about clouds! They do another fun bit of business with a split screen (love Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time’s semi-in-camera effects!) and Sebastian and Deirdre disagree over whether Jeff’s genuinely doing better. They both agree that the song is exclusively about clouds, which is ridiculous because it’s all about not being afraid of things just because you don’t understand them, which is really about his girlfriend’s incredibly imminent mortality.
Even though he appears happier, it’s destined to be a bad week for Jeff. He finally meets Tara Lipinksi, who will be playing him in the touring ice show. Sebastian gives him a day to think about it, and when we next see Jeff, his knuckles are again bandaged. How many lamps can one man punch? Sebastian won’t even assuage Jeff’s fears of being replaced by a cartoon or a talking doll. And he’s trying to hire a writing staff for the show. They all have backgrounds in child development and writing, but of course Jeff declines. (Fred Rogers actually did work with several uncredited writers, and consulted at least weekly with pioneering child psychologist Dr. Margaret McFarland.) It’s frankly surprising that someone as controlling as Sebastian hadn’t tried to hire writers previously; if we view Kidding as being about the power struggle on Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time between Jeff and Seb, it may be that Phil’s death destabilized Jeff enough to decisively tip the scales in Seb’s favor. Not to be cynical.
But Sebastian is really fighting for control of the show everywhere. He shuts Deirdre down hard when she asks to voice a puppet on the show. As soon as she asks, the other person in the room (I believe it was an editor?) knows to leave the room to make way for more uncomfortable family drama in the workplace. When she tries to talk through some of her feelings with him, he pushes back even harder: Jeff’s in crisis, so she’s fine. Her husband isn’t gay, and Seb knows because “Trust me. I’m a Navy man.” Does Seb not see how much Deirdre is struggling, or does he choose to ignore it? Or does he just refuse to accept it? This family dynamic is so unhealthy!
But Seb hasn’t bottomed out yet. To get Will to quit smoking weed, Seb has him over to share a joint and watch ASMR videos. Right as Will’s about to hit it, Seb snatches it away and tells him to stop smoking, he’s breaking his father’s heart. But it works! Will goes back to school telling his friends he’s not smoking anymore. Frankly, kid, anyone else would cherish the chance to get high and watch ASMR videos with Frank Langella.
Jeff and Vivian go ice skating, and — okay, I skipped something gross. Earlier, after receiving a V text message from Vivian, Jeff sends her a J back. She doesn’t believe he really masturbated. So he gets out a sock puppet, GIVES IT BOOBS, fills his hand with mayonnaise, and goes to town. I hated this, but it does raise the question: Can Jeff only get off with a sock puppet? Okay.
So Jeff and Vivian go ice skating. Even without flashing back to the hockey fight from Jeff’s youth, the whole scene is heavy with the memory of that violence. They skate together for a minute, then Jeff goes off to skate with his adoring fans. Kind of a bummer date, I’d think, but this was also a thing for Mr. Rogers: People in his life had to get used to him giving all of himself to every fan every time. In the snack bar, Vivian gives Jeff some great advice: Punch your dad in the face! He’s a jerk! Jeff also tries to comp snacks for everyone at the ice rink, because once again now that he feels free to spend his money frivolously, he’s going to throw it away like Nicolas Cage.
Jeff heads over to work to talk to (punch?) his dad, but instead encounters Tara Lipinksi wearing the enormous Mr. Pickles head. She introduces herself as Jeff, which is so weird because she’s not even playing Jeff, she’s playing Mr. Pickles! The scene lingers on the impossible strangeness of this encounter, and Jeff slips off his fancy new shoes and gives them to ersatz Jeff. Fabulous strange moment.
Will, however, was not stymied by a trip to the twilight zone like Jeff was. When Jeff tries to Have a Talk with him, Will blows him off. He tells Jeff that Seb got him to quit smoking weed in five words instead of a long monologue, and by the way try listening to people for once in your life. Maybe every episode from now on should end with a relative yelling at Jeff for being a narcissist! The interaction is stressful for our boy Will, though, because he immediately decides to get high with his friends … IN THE HOUSE JEFF BOUGHT AND LEFT THE GAS ON!!!
Schools Deirdre Founded
• WILL THE HOUSE EXPLODE? WILL WILL BLOW UP HIS FRIENDS?? DOES POT KILL??? Tune in next week!
• If you haven’t watched this yet, check it out: I had no idea the shooting of that scene was so involved! Very cool!
• When Seb writes a check, he dates it 10/14/18. This show takes place one week in the future, so by watching it we can all be Kyle Chandler’s character on Early Edition.
• When Mr. Pickles and Vivian are making out outside the restaurant, he keeps trying to grab her hair, forgetting it’s a wig, so she keeps having to push his hand away. Funny bit of business.
• Jeff for sure thinks his card being declined at the ice rink was cosmic punishment for buying fancy shoes, right?
• Last week, a commenter told me that Jill’s whistling at the end of that episode was an indication that she still watched his show. That makes some sense, though it doesn’t explain why she wandered into Will’s bedroom whistling it. You really could be right, but I still want to believe that not everything on this show is explainable.