RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The character Jim Carrey plays on his new TV show just might remind you of someone else you've seen on television over the years. This is how he's described in the first episode when he visits Conan O'Brien's late-night talk show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KIDDING")
CONAN O'BRIEN: (As himself) All right. Our next guest is celebrating his 30th anniversary in children's television. He raised your son, your daughter, your stepdaughter, from his couch in Columbus, Ohio. Please help me welcome Mr. Jeff Pickles.
MARTIN: Carrey plays Jeff Pickles, a kids' TV host who will inevitably remind you of Mr. Rogers. But Pickles is going through some pretty adult issues on Showtime's new series. It's called "Kidding." The show debuted yesterday, and NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans had some thoughts.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: My thumbnail description of this show is, what if Mr. Rogers had a nervous breakdown because of a horrific family tragedy? So (laughter) you can see what a tough subject this is to turn into comedy. Carrey's Jeff Pickles is this sensitive, sheltered kids' TV host who's struggling with this tragedy. And several episodes are directed by executive producer Michel Gondry, who you might remember worked with Jim Carrey on the film "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind." And you can see Gondry's eye for absurd situations and, like, presenting jarring images and convoluted storylines. There are a lot of jokes in the script, but this series, at least, in the first four episodes that I've seen, is this intense meditation on trauma, loss and pain. So even the funny lines don't quite land, like, funny jokes. And Jim Carrey is playing a very subdued character, very different than the characters we've seen him play in popular movies like "Liar, Liar" or "Ace Ventura."
MARTIN: So the outward contours of this character clearly reflect Fred Rogers, but is that where it stops? I mean, how closely do the producers tie this character to Fred Rogers?
DEGGANS: This show seems to be playing a game of creating a character who's similar enough to remind you of Fred Rogers but different enough that they won't get sued. (Laughter). So he talks to kids in a similar way. He has songs the way Fred Rogers did. But one thread of the show seems to center on showing Jeff Pickles doing things that we would never see Mr. Rogers do in real life, like having sex or stalking his estranged wife. And the other thing is, like, the other characters don't really treat Jeff Pickles with the respect that Mr. Rogers seemed to have from both the people that he worked with and his family. Jeff Pickles' marriage is falling apart. His executive producer, who's also his dad, won't let him talk about the tragedy on his show. So we've got a clip where Jeff Pickles is trying to convince his dad, who's played by Frank Langella, to let him talk about death on the show. But Daddy wants to protect the franchise. So let's check it out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KIDDING")
JIM CARREY: (As Jeff Pickles) Do we need another show about colors? Kids know the sky is blue. They need to know what to do when it's falling. I'm in a perfect position to talk to them about the worst fear they have - that Mommy and Daddy and everyone they love has an expiration date.
FRANK LANGELLA: (As Sebastian) Well, they'll never drink milk again.
MARTIN: It's dark. I mean, what does this mean for where Jim Carrey's at in his career that he took this role?
DEGGANS: Well, Jim Carrey seems to be struggling to sort of figure out his place in show business. And Jeff Pickles is doing that, too. He's, Jeff Pickles is this repressed guy who's slowly seeing this emotional turmoil break through this placid image that he's created for himself. Now, it's tough to tell if this is going to add up to a coherent story, but I'm really hopeful that Jim Carrey and Michel Gondry will create a series that's worth spending so much time with these characters' pain.
MARTIN: All right. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.
DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.