So here we are. The first episode of the 31st season of Puppet Time. How many shows can you say have been on the air for more than 30 seasons? Simpsons? No. How is that even a show anymore? Can TV watching constitute a task because that show certainly is belabored?
On the heightened heels of that last episode, wherein Diedre loses most of her IP and Jeff gains self-confidence, we come to an understanding on the Michel Gondry directed Kidding (Showtime), “Episode #3101”.
We open in on the “WROT Columbus” logo. Oh, we are watching a full-fledged episode of Puppet Time. In true Mr. Rogers fashion, we pan over a model of Pickle Barrel Falls to find Mr. Pickles (Jim Carrey) in his house at the summit of Pickle Barrel Falls. Packing in his murphy bed crafted from a bookcase, we welcomed through song. This is a safe space and after being in absentia for quite the while, Jeff wants us to know that nothing has changed… but indeed it all has.
Extracting a colorful array of balloons, Mr. Pickles sets up his narrative for a half-hour. He’s back from what many considered a public meltdown and his next song is about the ephemeral but magical nature of balloons. See, these aren’t just any old balloons. They’re for his wife, Jill to celebrate what’s about to change both of their lives for the better and worse… If only she weren’t late.
Mr. Pickles’ house is suddenly rocked by an immense external force. He descends to the bottom of Pickle Barrel Falls to investigate. The entirety of the town below is in utter chaos and disarray. Mr. Pickles approaches Snagglehorse (Dave Holstein), pinned under his own crumbled Snaggle Barn. Mr. Pickles’ barrel, his only mode of transportation comes undone. Everything is becoming unglued. The houses are falling apart and Mr. Pickles doesn’t understand why… but never to fear, for Do-It-Yourself Diedre (Catherine Keener) is just an Emergency Chicken away. Yeah, that is what I said.
Arriving in a four-wheeled barrel and looking like the offspring of a Team Fortress 2 class and Nicktoons character, Diedre makes her on-screen debut. Now Diedre fought for on-screen presence last season, but Seb simply wasn’t hearing it. Now with Seb out of the picture that is this simulacrum of life-changing, Diedre is the showrunner, willing to fix every home in Pickle Barrel Falls. Mr. Pickles wants to wait for his wife though. Diedre doesn’t think she’s going to show up and their friends need homes stat.
This is Diedre’s first number with Jeff. They are singing about uniting for a common goal- sticking together… though it’s a song mainly sponsoring glue. Ennui Le Triste (Dan Garza) interrupts the song and rightfully says you simply can’t create magic out of good vibes. Jeff counters with Picolla Grande (Ariana Grande). Oh yes, they’ve come with fucking ammo in the beautiful form of Ariana Grande as a forest nymph.
Similar to Tinkerbelle, this faerie operates on something intangible. Not exactly happy thoughts, but rather hope. This is the cue for the trio to sing about sticking together. A little bit of glue I’m learning can fix anything. Diedre has no longer a glue problem but rather a glue solution.
This seems thus far like the main song of the entire episode. I mean they got Ariana fucking Grande to contribute her siren song vox for this. Oh no. They fix the town, but we’re only to half the problem. Sometimes that glue just doesn’t hold, no matter how good your intentions are. Diedre swears she can fix it, but her glue simply cannot hold it together anymore. Any of it. The characters ask her to try new glue, but she only has what she started off with. With a heavy heart, Diedre suggests the denizens of Pickle Barrel Falls find a new home.
This is probably one of the most clever ways of addressing both Jeff and Diedre’s problems. Change is painful sometimes… so we might as well rip that band-aid off before it becomes a part of us.
The characters of Pickle Barrel Falls question if they did something wrong to have this wreckage befallen upon them. Both Diedre and Jeff assure them it wasn’t their fault. Some of the characters blame themselves, but Deidre asserts that sometimes the harder you try to keep things together, the more they fall apart. Diedre gathers all the characters and sings her big number.
This is where Michel Gondry shines. Through a pastiche of transforming and changing backgrounds through paper, Diedre navigates through a very poignant song that nothing lasts forever and things can break and you’re only left with the glue you started out with. It’s a very moving piece and nothing can take that away from Diedre.
The characters turn on Diedre and blame her. Ennui Le Triste is freaking out and cries his eyes out, leading to a new formation of Pickle Barrel Falls. Though Mr. Pickles tries to comfort him, Ennui denies it all and wants to stay in the town, disguising himself as a tree, one of the things that didn’t crumble. Jeff explains trees can change too. Through the majesty of the Bickering Beavers, we see that, though rooted in the ground, a tree can transform into stuff like furniture or musical instruments. This is Jeff’s time to shine.
As the Beavers output included a toy piano, so did they create Jeff’s divorce papers. Trees do change. Sometimes into something fun. Sometimes into something not so happy. As Mr. Pickles begins his song on the newly created keys, Jill (Judy Greer) enters stage left, forlorn. Jeff on-air reveals he’s getting a divorce and Jill explains it with tears in her eyes.
Ennui Le Triste cannot fathom that even though two adults love each other to the moon and back how they could be separating. Jill explains that no matter how much two people may love each other, sometimes they just become unglued.
Both Jeff and Jill basically, on-air tell each other what they wanted to but were too afraid to say in person. This moment is cathartic and super heart-wrenching. Hop-Squatch (Dick Van Dyke) brings it home. It’s finally time to sign the papers, on air.
As Deidre is confronted by her creations and assailed with bread on behalf of Ennui Le Triste (basically a talking baguette), Mr. Pickles intervenes. Ennui has his big number as Jill holds him. He sings of the pluses of leaving a broken home rather than being crushed by it. It’s for the best.
As a still trying to keep it from not fully breaking down in sobs Jill sings to Jeff and as his Pickle Pals and his sister surround him, it’s his moment of truth. The divorce papers are now in front of him and he must sign them in front of all the youth of the world. Sometimes change is painful and ugly. Sometimes it’s beautiful and we didn’t even know it. Jeff relents because his heart can’t take it… Save the best for last.
The last Pickle Pal to be seized by Scott pops out of Mr. Pickles’ chest- Thump-Thump (Jane Carrey). This character is a literal heart that sings operated by Jeff’s left arm. She sings that though change is dangerous and scary, it can be fun and exciting. Looking at his wife, he lets Thump Thump grab hold of the pen and sign the papers. Fuuuuck, this is where I lost it. It was all building up to this moment and it was hard to keep the oculars from flowing, like Pickle Barrel Falls.
As Hop-Squatch lends a helping hand to the Pickle Pals on their last episode, Mr. Pickles sends each them off with a balloon that we had seen in the beginning. Ariana Grande makes her final and angelic bowing out as the characters basically confront their own demise.
Diedre seeing off her own creations is especially moving. Mr. Pickles hands a balloon to his wife but lets it go. It’s into the unknown… as are they.
I found the script amazingly writ. It’s no surprise that master puppeteer and writer Joey Mazzarino put this whole thing together with Michel Gondry. This episode is a fucking work of art and should stand on its own merit. It should be put in the Museum of Television and Radio to observe and discuss.