Gondry's work has always toed the line between dreams and reality -- a subject he is admittedly drawn to because of his own vivid imagination. The world of Mr. Pickles' Puppet Time is similarly hallucinatory. Still, while the aesthetic has yielded comparisons of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood meets Pee-Wee's Playhouse, Gondry says he was trying to avoid leaning on anything for inspiration.
"To me, it was more thinking of Jim Carrey as we know him and Jim Carrey as he is when we work together," he says. "I didn't want to be influenced... But I thought Jim Carrey has all these layers from happiness to despair within himself, so I was more interested to be able to do that and take the bits that I like and make them grow or use them." And though some of Jeff's puppets were designed before Gondry got on set, he wanted the ones he developed through drawings to be totally original -- like a conductor leading a pickle choir hidden in its body.
As you watch the initial episodes of Kidding, you keep waiting for it to make a turn into total darkness. There are hints of that, of course. Jeff's father (Frank Langella) wants to make sure he can monetize his son's brand, even if he loses his mind -- even going so far as to order the creation of a giant Jeff head for an ice skating show. His sister (Catherine Keener), the puppet master on his show, is dealing with her own problems after her daughter sees her husband getting a hand job from her piano teacher. On top of all that, Jeff's son is on a rebellious streak, hanging with a new pot-smoking crowd and trying to put bees in his mother's car. But, in keeping within Gondry's philosophy, it's Jeff's perspective that tends to win. "I don't need to have assholes in the movie. It doesn't interest me," he says. "I realize there are some in real life. I don't really want to see them in my movie."
Gondry alludes to the fact that sometimes this sunny outlook would conflict with what was in the script. "Sometimes Dave [Holstein], for the strength of the story, he wanted people to be more aggressive, more mean, and we talked about it and sometimes I shoot them more this way, and sometimes I succeeded to change his mind and shoot them nicer," he says.
What results is a counter to the world of antihero TV, which labors to make its audience empathize with the Walter Whites of the world. Although Jeff's tendencies might be just as internally self-destructive, Kidding asks, what if you had to deal with the most ingratiatingly nice person you could possibly imagine? And what if that person's cheery temperament, masking their emotional baggage, was maybe slowly destroying him?