Showtime recently released a trailer for Kidding, an upcoming series from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry and actor Jim Carrey in which the rubber-faced comedian plays a children's TV host prone to whispering sweet platitudes like "the stuff I like about you isn't the stuff on the outside" to a loyal audience of cherub-faced youngsters. It's clear that something is off about this TV host, who goes by the name Mr. Pickles. He has a smiling face but a dark soul.
The teaser for the show, which debuts on September 9, arrived not long after a preview for Melissa McCarthy's The Happytime Murders, an upcoming comedy set in a Roger Rabbit-like world where humans and puppets co-exist. Though it's directed by Brian Henson, the son of Muppets mastermind Jim Henson, this isn't a family-friendly mystery. The "red band" trailer ends with a puppet having sex in its office and ejaculating its own weight in white silly string. Unsurprisingly, Sesame Street quickly filed a lawsuit against the movie.
These two examples of "edgy" takes on kids shows serve as an interesting counterpoint to the new Mr. Rogers documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, which opened quietly in 29 theaters across the country last Friday and earned a healthy $470,000 at the box office. In terms of tone and approach, it could not be more different than Gondry's post-rock soundtracked mix of whimsy and psychological unease. Like its subject, the film from 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville is kind, curious, and gentle. It certainly doesn't have any puppet sex scenes.
At the same time, Won't You Be My Neighbor? doesn't shy away from or avoid the numerous rumors, insinuations, and urban legends that have swirled around Fred Rogers since his eponymous half-hour program, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, debuted in 1968 and became a national sensation. In a section late in the film, we hear testimonials from his co-workers, family, and friends: No, he wasn't gay; he didn't have tattoos on his arms; he wasn't a raging egomaniac behind the scenes. The moral complexities of Fred Rogers, who died in 2003 at the age of 74, are subtler. The gray areas harder to pinpoint.