IFC’s Maron is going to be one of those shows that gets called "unique" a lot in its early weeks. Marc Maron’s longstanding project — whether in his comedy, his stellar WTF podcast, or his memoirs — has always been to showcase his psyche in as painfully accurate a way as possible. There are hints that Maron will eventually do the same, but there’s also plenty indicating that Maron just wants to be a viable TV show. Until viewers figure out which direction the scale is tipping, the placeholder "unique" will fly freely. For now, Maron’s zest is evident, but its creator’s vision is a little uncharacteristically hazy.
We open on a chatty 49-year-old doing a combination of practicing his stand-up routine for his vet and cornering her into acting as his temporary therapist. "Is it important that people know who you are?" she asks. The question’s not a throwaway — is it important? Because if it is, here’s Maron’s shot. Sure, an army of comedy nerds and podcast enthusiasts know the man, but this is television, the place where all comedians who’ve had any measure of success wind up eventually, right? And yet it’s Maron’s first time actually making it to the air after a bunch of failed chances. Considering this is the guy whose podcast kicks off with a soundbite from one of his only film roles ever (“LOCK THE GATES,” from a bit part in Almost Famous), this is probably a big moment. An important one. And yeah, it wouldn’t hurt for people to know who he is.
Anyway. TV Maron isn’t dealing with any of that. He’s just trying to figure out if he can get this vet to take care of him the way she’s taking care of his cat. Marc’s next emotional need gets broadcast seconds later, in his exchange with the vet’s receptionist: The comedian has a dire need to know he's funny. It’s a key to the episode, and probably the series: Maron has been a working comic for about three decades. On one level, he's positive people find him funny. But he's also now gotten famous for his ability to just converse with people, connectively, nakedly, and mostly joke-free. So he’s not sure of anything, really. Enter DragonMaster, the Twitter troll Maron needs to blast us into this tunnel of self-doubt.
The first glimpse at Maron recording one of his podcast intros in his garage is a treat. The show isn’t going to skimp on Maron’s trademark self-absorption and self-analysis (or close-ups on his mustache), although it’s not above deploying those traits to set up a plot. The intimate mini-monologue feels almost exactly as improvised as the ones Real Maron records for WTF. Which is promising.
Poor Boomer has a shitty time in the car after the vet. This allows TV Maron an emergency visit to a coffee shop, and Real Maron an opportunity to use his new show to transform a potential stand-up bit into a scene. It winds up being one of the episode’s less vital moments. Marc's ex-wife and her new partner seem flat, expendable. Maybe it’s a necessary scene for Maron newbies to understand the level of self-absorption this guy carries around with him — his ex-wife is having a baby at him, and that’s “her move.” And yet, there are many ways to paint a character as an amusing brand of asshole, and none of them involve a man telling his ex-wife’s new lover, “I had her when she was perfect” and “hope you buy a nice crib with my money.” Are those the ingredients we need to establish how thick Maron’s bitterness runs? The whole exchange is the wrong kind of uncomfortable.
The Kids in the Hall’s Dave Foley is an interesting guest for the first episode — he was the star of one of Maron's original Very Deep WTF Conversations. Unfortunately Foley’s Maron version of himself just wants to nap. It’s also starting to look like the series plans to feature a lot of Marc Maron looking at screens, which is never dramatically or comedically interesting.
We spend a few short scenes burning time with Foley — a dull talk centered around asserting heterosexuality in the car, a truly head-scratching bit dedicated to Foley taking a whiz behind a dumpster. By the time a well-crafted punchline about Maron’s ex-wife having kittens lands, the feeling of expectancy almost has me too off-kilter to laugh.
The same goes for Maron’s foray into Dragon Master’s lair. It’s clear Marc needs to have a showdown with a Twitter troll — and clear just how viciously Real Maron must constantly get antagonized online, the fact that he makes it a crux of his show’s pilot — but there’s so much fat that could be trimmed here. The face-off isn’t particularly satisfying or illuminating or funny, even if Dragon Master is Garrett from Community. It is fun seeing Marc’s chagrin when Dave Foley shows up to fanfare from the D&D crowd, though. Real Maron's willingness to write scripts that brutalize his character — "your cat shit in its cage; you should write a one-man show about that!" — does bode well for future episodes.
The before and after of WTF episodes is an eternal mystery. What's the small talk like when guests show up to Maron's place? How do they follow up one of those long, emotionally intense conversations, once the mics are off and the MacBook is closed? I’m looking forward to seeing more of it, albeit in fictionalized form. It's just a complete blank space in my imagination. It’s also a nice twist to see Maron, ostensibly in his element, completely fail to deliver a good talk with Foley. They shut it down and agree to try another time.
Out buying cat food, Maron meets a WTF acolyte and a fellow divorced cat-lover. The guy is ecstatic, going so far as to rattle off the names of Maron’s cat posse. Maron does some quality acting here, beaming with real, infectious joy. It’s a resounding answer to the episode’s question — Marc does need recognition, even if it comes from a quirky cat-man. Maybe especially so.
Comedies ranging from South Park to Modern Family to Sex and the City have leaned on the wrap-everything-up-tidily voiceover to end episodes. Maron repurposes WTF’s contemplative side to fit snugly into this tradition. "You're gonna have to sit yourself down and say, 'You're a dick. And if you don't cool it, you're gonna be alone and no one's gonna like you,'” Marc tells himself. “And if you're me, you'll say to you, 'Shut up. I'm doing it the way I wanna do it and people are just gonna have to accept that. I am who I am.' 'Yeah, you're a dick.' 'Hey, don't interrupt me while I'm feeling sorry for myself.'" The pitter-patter feels drastically honest, and refreshingly funny in turn. And of course we’ve finished right where we started, inside Maron’s head.
• Dave Foley calling Boomer “Bammer” is a candidate for the episode’s best one-off line. So is, "I thought today was last week."
• The title credits have Marc Maron as the writer for this episode. Based on interviews, it sounds like the season will be a mix of episodes written by Maron and by a four-person writers' room he assembled.
• If you found the fan’s reaction to Maron overboard, click over to the Ask Me Anything session Maron did on Reddit this week — the people thanking him for saving and/or changing their lives are legion.
• Maron's banner is called Boomer Lives! Productions. The actual Boomer has been missing since Marc started filming this show. :(
• Is Maron’s affinity for cats going to be a big obstacle for cat-haters? Discuss.