Quick quiz: What two things do Jim Carrey and Lil Rel Howery have in common?
Answer: First, they were both regulars in the sketch comedy show “In Living Color” — although Carrey was in the successful, 1990-94 original, and Howery was in the 2012 revival … which never actually made it on the air.
And, second, both of them have new TV series debuting on Sunday night.
But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Because while Howery’s sitcom “Rel” has some potential and some laughs, Carrey’s “Kidding” is an uncomfortable, unfocused and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to blend comedy and drama.
“Kidding” (Sunday, 11 p.m., Showtime) • Jim Carrey returns to TV playing the host of a children’s TV show — complete with puppets — but this is not a comedy.
Carrey stars as Jeff Pickles, a guy whose over-the-top optimism is sorely tested by the death of his son in a car accident a year earlier. Think of him as “Mister Rogers” if Mister Rogers were weird, creepy and depressed.
By the way, series creator David Holstein describes Carrey’s character as a “creepy weirdo.”
Jeff is completely well-intentioned and totally strange. He wants to talk about his son’s death on “Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time,” but his father/executive producer, Seb (Frank Langella), stops him out of fear that it will harm the brand and kill the show.
“You’re a trusted brand. No one sees a man,” Seb says. “You can’t change.”
The whole family is a mess. Jeff is separated from his wife, Jill (Judy Greer); his sister, Deirdre (Catherine Keener), who works on the show, is in a failing marriage; his surviving son, Will (Cole Allen), is a resentful disaster — and none of them really has much to do.
Plus, “Kidding” gives us only snippets of the show-within-a-show, and the manic energy of “Puppet Time” is far more entertaining than the real show.
It’s sort of sad and pathetic, which gives Carrey a chance to be an actor. But what the point is and where this is going are unclear in the first episodes.
This is Carrey’s first regular TV role since “In Living Color” ended in 2001; his first regular TV role in something other than a sketch-comedy since the short-lived sitcom “The Duck Factory” in 1984. And, clearly, he could return to TV and be a big star.
But probably in something other than “Kidding.”
“Rel” (Sunday, 6 p.m., Fox/Channel 13) is based on star Lil Rel Howery’s stand-up comedy. Which is based on his life.
“It’s going to be lots of those little things within the show, the little quirks I have, stuff that’s been in my stand-up, stuff that really gets on my nerves,” Howery said.
The real Rel (“Get Out,” “The Carmichael Show”) stars as the fictionalized Rel, a nice guy who has just discovered that his wife has been cheating on him with his barber. And now he’s got to rebuild his life.
Apparently, Rel’s real life kind of sucks sometimes.
Fictionalized Rel’s younger brother (Jordan L. Jones) is just out of jail, his father (Sinbad) is difficult and Rel is fixated on mundane details that get in the way. Like his disdain for an otherwise attractive woman, “Loose Boots Monica,” whose choice of footwear drives him to distraction.
It’s a bit from his standup act, inspired by his … ahem … ex-wife.
“She used to wear these boots that, oh God, just annoyed me. Just looking at her legs doing all that stuff,” he said.
“Rel” is sort of low-key and observational. It starts out sort of slow, but it was growing on me by the end of the pilot episode. It’s worth giving it a few more episodes to see what happens.