“The Cleanest Liver in Columbus, Ohio” and “Up, Down and Everything in Between” reintroduces a more optimistic version of Kidding that retains the first season’s essential weirdness.
This review contains minor spoilers for Kidding Season 2, Episode 1, “The Cleanest Liver in Columbus, Ohio”, and Kidding Season 2, Episode 2, “Up, Down and Everything in Between”. Weekly recaps will continue henceforth. You can also check out our thoughts on the previous season by clicking these words.
Kidding was always a weird and faintly terrifying show; a nightmarish riff on the Mr Rogers archetype featuring an elastic Jim Carrey performance that reimagined a beloved and vital kids’ TV figure as a man bracing himself against a psychological tailspin. It was strange, it was often funny, and it was moving, but it was also a whiplash-inducing descent in mania, obsession, psychosis and self-destruction. By comparison, Kidding Season 2, at least in its first two episodes, “The Cleanest Liver in Columbus, Ohio” and “Up, Down and Everything in Between”, is less manic and more focused. Despite opening with the immediate aftermath of Carrey’s Jeff Pickles ploughing his car into his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, Peter (Justin Kirk), the underlying tone is a hopeful one. If the first season was about Mr Pickles rapidly unravelling and reaching an ultimately uncharacteristic act of malice, Kidding Season 2 is about beginning to heal and atone for that transgression.
Typically of Dave Holstein’s show, none of this is as simple as it sounds. It crafts an odd love triangle between Jeff, Peter, and Jill (Judy Greer, perfect as ever), and colours it full of bitter resentments and difficult adjustments but also physical and emotional breakthroughs, shared connections and understandings. To save Peter’s life, Jeff donates his liver, giving them a strange physical connection that manifests as a surrealist jaunt through Jeff’s made-for-TV puppet land as they work out their respective issues while under anaesthetic. It’s full of puppets and songs and bitter tirades, and that off-kilter balance is what works best about Kidding Season 2, much as it defined the first season.
Jeff has problems beyond those of his health and his love-life, though. His show is off the air for the first time in three decades, leaving him newly aimless and his micromanaging father, Seb (Frank Langella), without a clear way to monetize his son and his for-all-the-family pacifistic worldview. Jeff’s sister Deirdre (Catherine Keener) is going through a messy divorce from her gay husband Scott (Bernard White), and their daughter Maddy (Juliet Morris) continues to be somewhat terrifying in her own right. And Jeff’s deeply troubled son Will (Cole Allen) remains mistrustful of his father and seemingly determined to ensure he has no happy ending.
Kidding Season 2 is, in many ways, the perfect sophomore season to an imperfect show; it hones in on the characters and themes that made the first outing so unique and arresting and continues to put them through a creative wringer but importantly allows them to emerge on the other side organically changed for the better. It seems to have lost some of the first season’s nihilistic edge and embraced a sunnier, more optimistic outlook, suggesting that even in our worst moments we can find a light to guide us somewhere better and brighter. I think that’s a message Mr Pickles would approve of.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.