TV review: Kidding, Sky Atlantic / NOW TV

★★★★☆

Jim Carrey plays a haunted children's entertainer in a drama that admirably tones down its potential for predictable comedy

Anyone who saw Jim & Andy, the Netflix documentary featuring Jim Carrey's obsessive method behaviour on the set of Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, will no doubt speculate on what the rubber-faced Canadian got up to in the cause of Kidding. Teaming up with director Michel Gondry for the first time since 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Carrey plays Jeff Piccirillo, a kids entertainer who goes by the name Mr Pickles, with a desperately sad past (you probably saw that coming), insisting that children should learn about the darker side of life before it's too late for them to handle grief.

While Mr Pickles can shoot the breeze on Conan and confronts death on his popular TV show against the advice of everyone (especially his executive producer and father Seb, played by Frank Langella), Jeff is a man so sensitive that he worries that fist-bumping might be an act of violence and can't walk past a comatose drunk without making sure they're sitting comfortably. And he almost crumbles when his son criticises his clothes for making him look like 'Rosa Parks' bus driver'. This just happens to be one of many fine lines in a show that opts to place its drama just ahead of its comedy.

There is plenty scope in Kidding for this to be textbook frenetic Carrey, but he keeps a lid on the mania to deliver one of those subtle mid-career performances that surprised fans who caught the Carrey bug through The Mask and Ace Ventura. Alongside Carrey's subtle central performance are warm playing from Langella, Catherine Keener as Jeff's puppeteer sister, and Cole Allen as his sharp-tongued son Will. By the time you witness the lengths Jeff will go to in order to spy on his ex-wife, it's clear that Kidding will be a ten-episode struggle between freewheeling comedy and something much more sinister.

Episodes watched: 1 & 2 of 10

Kidding starts on Sky Atlantic / NOW TV, Thursday 29 November, 10.40pm.

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