A ton could be said for the one art both painters and writers agree upon… music. It provides a muse to many a session and it’s something that even stage and screen could compete not with- unmitigated delight that is both ineffable and impossible to truly describe. Plenty of non-musical television shows had incorporated music as the backdrop and some have also developed an episode into a musical. Typically, that is done because the writer’s room is at a dearth of ideas and I personally see as a last-ditch effort if it’s not naturally a musical show. Blackpool did it correctly, but then American television shows started to fall head over heels for it. It was always quiet and quirky, pushing the plot but not really saying much unless there were true stakes at hand, which there never were. It is in this vein that this episode breaks the mold. Though already having musical numbers just on account of Mr. Pickles Puppet Time, they’ve not had a musical or semi-musical episode. In the follow-up episode, “Up, Down and Everything Between”, Kidding (Showtime) brings a sense of catharsis, closure and well, everything in between.
“We are the music makers/ And we are the dreamers of the dreams.” – Arthur O’Shauhnessy
In Theme 1, we open in on a test group of children toying uncomfortably with a Mr. Pickle proxy Mr. Potato head… a pickle. Far behind but still close of the double-sided glass, Seb (Frank Langella) is putting the kibosh on placing a phallic-shaped friend in the hand of kids around the country, despite Mr. Pickle’s (Jim Carrey) stirring tree lighting address that ended last season, whereby he called bullshit on the saccharine food and culture we shovel into the mouths and minds of today’s youth, much to the consternation of parents worldwide and to the stellar sales of his last toy after that, a talking Mr. Pickles doll.
(In case you’re wondering, Jeff Piccirrilo basically broke down in front of the most important and filmed time of his life, pulling a Howard Beale live on-air to an adoring audience. Get yours, Jeff.)
The executives try to convince Seb to strike while the iron is hot, but the bigger issue the executives insisting on is getting Mr. Pickles back on the air as soon as possible so the toys can be pushed. In their words, they “can’t sell albums if the band’s not on tour” which is an apt analogy. Technically, merchandise would be better analogous, since that’s how a band really makes money, but I digress. Seb assures them “Puppet Time” will be back on the air within six months… and then he gets the call. Ohh, boy is Jeff’s good deed going to make big daddy unhappy… but some girl will if they don’t pull that toy and quick. Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said…
Back in the waiting room, an uncomfortable Diedre (Catherine Keener) sits across from a very livid Jill (Judy Greer). Worried Will (Cole Allen) and his aloof friend, B.D. (Coda Boesel) asks when his brother died, had they donated his organs. Jill informs him they didn’t because had they, the lucky so and so would be inducted as a part of the Piccirrillo family and Mr. Pickles would set up scholarship which Jill wants nothing to do with. Added stress from a great guy. Isn’t ironic. Dontcha think?
Jeff essentially would see the act as the recipient being a literal part of the family.
As the procedure is set to begin, Jill goes to see Peter (Justin Kirk) and Deidre goes to see Jeff giving her daughter Maddy (Juliet Morris) a twenty spot to buy a soda pop. The insightful B.D. asks Will if he’s ever thought this was all his fault for calling his own father a pussy so many times. Pause and keeping it 100.
In the prep room, Jeff is worried that Jill won’t talk to him again if Peter actually makes it through. Deidre vows to make smooth things over. His surgeon, Dr. Labanc (Carrie Kawa) and anesthesiologist, Dr. Gimple (Pete Carboni) on loan from County (which is the funniest and most abrasive joke I’ve heard in a while.. search it up) arrive and Mr. Pickles is wheeled into the O.R., but not before mouthing to his sister, “talk to her.” Gee, that will end well in roses and lemonade.
Now, I’ve never trusted hospitals. I know they are supposed to do you well, whole Hippocratic Oath and all.. But I just don’t like them.
In the O.R., after a few surgery puns are lobbed, Jeff is at the start of his journey. Just before he goes out, Dr. Labanc informs him that though her daughter loved his unhinged speech, SHE didn’t care much for it, so she changes his listening experience from a peaceful Brahams, his preferred to some aggressive bland industrial song. This sends Jeff in his last waking breaths into a panicked fugue state in a very Michel Gondry fashion as the set transforms from the operating theatre into one of Pickle Falls, Jeff’s own creation.
“A painter paints in pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.” – Leopold Stokowski
In Pickle Falls, Jeff sees his old friends, like Snagglehorse (Rich Fulcher) and Astron-Otter (Gwen Hollander ) to Secret Chef (Mike Quinn), Ennui Le Triste (Dan Garza), and Sy The Wide-Eyed Fly (Christian Anderson). These old friends, however, are mortified of Mr. Pickles. They fear he will murder them. When Mr. Pickles insists he just needs passage up Pickle Falls to see his family, they fear he will murder them as well. Their mistrust in him looms large and they do NOT like their friend who’s changed with a simple push on a gas pedal. His only friends have abandoned him and Jeff is all alone to fend for himself… or is he?
We cut to a very young Jeff reading Deidre a postcard his mother had sent them from Niagra Falls. She’s abandoned the family and though Deidre can accept the fact their mother is happier without them, Jeff cannot. With a rucksack of chocolate Rodeobars and a BB rifle, a young Jeff, clad in a Boyscout uniform looking like an unused extra from Moonrise Kingdom sets off to see what could possibly make his mother so happy, she’d rather be there than with her family.
Once Seb hears of this, he goes after Jeff. Emotional, Jeff shoots poppa in the face fucking face and hand, even when handed the fact that his mother was a manic depressive. After Jeff lets off on a barrage of punches to his daddy’s gut, he’s knocked down before being offered a hand by the same person he shot. It’s very effective they use the bottom down view on O.C. (Off Camera) voice to represent the father figure. Jeff gets up on his own and kicks father in the nuts before continuing on his journey.
We CUT to a Mr. Pickles running through the woods of Pickle Falls in desperation. He happens upon Astronotter’s twig built Rocket in the middle of a lake. Jeff’s found a way out. It only looks like a one-man vessel, but this is Kidding. Even with Jeff’s own show, it’s never a one-man ship. Jeff’s side begins to really hurt in this drug-induced slumber.
(Remember, it’s a COUNTY anaesthesiologist).
Back in the O.R., Labanc extracts Jeff’s liver, holding it up like a holy artifact. She admits that Peter’s chances of taking to this unicorn of an organ comes down simply to the flip of a coin. Putting it bluntly, we’re putting the Ferrari engine into a fucking Corolla.
Back in Pickle Falls, Jeff attempts to man the Rocket, until a new friend drops in a parachuted barrel. Well, whattaya know, it’s Peter! Let’s say hello to our new asshole friend! Sorry, Mr. Pickles. Never use a bad word when you can use a better word. I meant fuckface.
Jeff is roughed up by the guy he was responsible for exploding the fucking liver of (I mean, it was a dick move on Jeff’s part, but after years of pent up anger to be perfect. It made sort of sense why he would run over someone that would not only fuck his wife but encroach on his family.. somebody more- normal.) Peter was also in the right because dude fucking dragged him to death’s door like a cat with a mouse and unless there was a universal donor, he was royally screwed.
After a little donnybrook, and Jeff’s erstwhile imaginary pals cheering on that beating, Peter’s arms turn musical, not violent. Each strike is more like the press of piano notes. Now Peter now has accepted Jeff’s liver and is a part of Mr. Pickles. Jeff hasn’t medically accepted yet, hence his pain. He is incomplete. So here we are. Peter is compelled to sing when he just wants to get out his aggression.
Through the muck and mire, something deep inside, something real that’s always been there doesn’t want to accept Jeff. His sing, song-y yet vulgar display of emotions shows him denying truth while accepting the truth of who he truly his… a real person. Peter needs to physically accept Jeff or he will die. Jeff needs to emotionally let go of his liver, or he will kill. Understandable.
The two in this dream world engage in one of the most lyrically complex, musically sound (yeah, I did it), and most Sondheim sounding musical episodes I’ve ever heard. All of them basically telling the truths to each other of how to just be better people and guardians for their same family fuel the rocket… as the gauge goes up, their truths get more real.
As they connect, Peter continues to rise from the table and begins singing. Ahh, fucking County. (He is put back into sedation through the gas.)
Back into the dream, where Peter nears towards the Rocket at the end of the pier, in the middle of the lake. This is Jeff, not Mr. Pickles big finish. He expresses doubt in giving a part of his ‘perfect’ body and ultimately blaming his wife, who drove the car that fateful day to losing their other son. Yup, deep-seeded issues, especially as though Jeff covers his mouth as if he was about to vomit. Word vomit already deployed. He’s angry at himself, that he blames her for something that wasn’t her fault and not being able to forgive her. Deep seeded issues. But Pete claims to escape to fuck Jeff’s wife with his liver, leaving the donor stranded and alone in his own version of Niagra Falls, Pickle Falls.
In the waiting room, two cops question Jill on what happened the night of the ‘accident’. With both Seb and Diedre staring her down, Jill simply ‘can’t recall’ why her beau was in the middle of the street. Thus ensures a safe brand still and living for Jeff.
Jill, feeling sorry for Jeff because it was only a matter until something broke in him, causing harm to him or someone else who es his family. Jill wants nothing to do with Jeff or his family and wants to keep him away from them as much as possible.
Shit gets real when Diedre mentions Phil’s death and Peter’s smoking weed, being a bad influence. Seb doubles down and though Seb smoked weed with Will before, Jill gets super real. I mean it’s two against one and though the family might be pretty tight, Jill is in the right. She and her two sons have been more of a family than Jeff had ever known, he just wasn’t taught that way with his own.
As secrets are revealed between Deidre and daddy, Jill can’t help but laugh. It wasn’t the best of families that created the perceived (best) of humanity. Seb leaves and visits Jeff and Jill informs Deidre when Jeff wakes up, she doesn’t fucking care. He’s made that bed, now he has to sleep (at least for a little while) in it.
Back in their youth, we see Jeff constructing his kingdom, including a fall made of spaghetti and a canyon made of nothing but confetti alongside his sister. Deidre is the constructor of all of this through Jeff’s puppet. The only thing that plagues a young Jeffy is how to get down the fall. KA-CHEEN. KA-CHEEN! His father (Gregory Sims) takes Polaroids of his children’s’ creative brilliance before his eyes. KA-CHING!
We go back to Jeff in his own mind space at the foot of the waterfall. Abandoned by his pals and his potential new pal, he is in a bad space. Staring back into the lake, his puppet proxy thinks maybe that’s where they belong- at the bottom. Then all of a sudden-
An enormous pair of hirsute legs and feet emerge. This is Hopsquatch. Hopsquatch simply puts Jeff in his giant palm and brings him up to the top. Hopsquatch was the overseer, always there to ascend Jeff to the heights had a problem getting to. Thus ensues a very adult Jeff who spake as a child lost. It is in this we see, as Mr. Pickles surveys the land that his father is more a sven-ghoulie than a dad. We see that the inner child in Jeff rears itself because that’s his happy place. His father was there to pick him up. Especially when his bi-polar mother went off to ‘a better place.’ In times of extreme stress, we usually gravitate to what makes us feel better.
Some call this a coping mechanism. In this case, I call it conditioning.
I’ll not spoil the ending of this because it’s just too wonderful and cathartic, ending in a simple phrase.
In this episode, I see the series growing stronger. We dive more into what make’s not only Jeff himself, but also how the Mr. Pickles alter ego takes over. What we feel and mean are in conflict all of the time, even we don’t like to admit it, like Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf. I feel, and we’re going into more hurtful, but funnier and more insightful stories that may peel a layer of the onion away of what makes us cry as humans.
Spoiler alert: it isn’t the onion’s fault.