Welcome back to The Misadventures of Marc Maron, where our hero just might find himself with a new sidekick each week. Pick your favorite WTF podcast guest and hold your breath — he or she will wind up playing Sancho to Maron’s Quixote soon enough. (That she is a generous suggestion — I know we’re only two episodes in, but this is looking to be a very male-dominated show. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, to see a storyline end up fictionalizing the tale of how Real Maron met his current, much-younger girlfriend.)
We begin with an introduction to Maron's TV-mom, a Floridian gloom-spreader. Out for a power-walk, she calls her son with a quick reminder that she’s committed him to talk to a young man about "a career in comedy" ("doesn't exist," Maron answers, bitter forever and ever). I love the way this scene is dealt to us — the long, patient shots of Maron's mother delivering her lines, the totally authentic anxiety Maron increasingly inhabits the longer he's trapped in a conversation with his boundary-free, kooky mother. It’s well done.
The dead possum under the house is another piece of Real Maron’s life repurposed for this series. Marc, maybe a couple years ago, kept his WTF faithful completely apprised of the situation with the decaying rodent under his house. (In the spirit of Maron’s solipsistic disclosure, I’ll lay out my WTF credentials on the table: I listened constantly from late 2010 to early 2012, dipping back into archival interviews between new episodes. Now I’m just a dabbler. It was actually Maron's sponsor, Audible.com, that turned my dishwashing time into audiobook hour rather than podcast hour. I still check in with WTF once in a while, when there’s a guest whose work I’m familiar with or when I’ve been missing Maron’s often transcendent hourlong conversations. We good?)
Denis Leary is this week’s Alternate Universe WTF Podcast guest. We get a snapshot of his and Marc’s conversation as it chips away at Marc’s manliness. "Diplomatic is a pussy word," Leary tells Maron. "You just let me call you a pussy, twice, to your face." That segues into a great dialogue about Marc’s basement-dwelling confidence. "How's your self-esteem?" Leary asks Maron (an absolutely everyday question on WTF). "It's okay," Maron waffles. "I mean, I hate myself, but … " The scene wraps with Maron's podcast-laugh, a lovely thing to hear while listening to WTF, an even greater thing to behold with a visual attached. This angry, confused man just living inside a laugh for a second is magical.
Maron calls his ex-wife (Ex No. 1 — last week we met Ex No. 2, recall) and has a believably sensitive moment apologizing for her father's illness. But boy does he lap up the brief moment when she asks how he’s holding up.
Maron's young tutee appears in the driveway looking like a Michael Cera stunt double. Marc is nakedly intolerant of Kyle's youth and earnestness. He despises everything this kid is about, but not as much as he hates the idea of dealing with a dead possum alone. Marc relishes his very recent crawlspace education and passes the inferiority torch to another human male as quickly as he can, lording his know-how over Kyle. The kid takes charge as a clueless but assured helper, and also a potential yes-man, which is the last thing Marc needs. "So don't Google dead animal grabber, or … ?" I hope Kyle (actual name: Josh Brener) sticks around as Maron’s assistant; they have completely different senses of humor and they're both manboys in their own ways. Good team.
When a Hazmat-suited Maron views himself in the mirror, the next few shots are definitely poised to echo Breaking Bad. The mentor and the mentee. The slanty camera angle for the taco luncheon. Kyle and Marc wind up standing at the edge of the crawlspace in a classic Pinkman/Mr. White arrangement, delaying the moment of truth like two kids at the edge of a frigid swimming pool. Maron takes a second to comment on the craftsmanship of his work-gloves, because literally anything is better than the icky fate awaiting him next.
While we can imagine Marc will fail in some fashion either spectacular (puking in the prone position, maybe?) or predictable (calling a guy to come handle the possum), it's impossible to guess how things actually wind up: Maron has a meltdown, furiously pinning his patchwork masculinity on his flaky walkout of a dad. Kyle has officially been initiated into Maron's circle, and his celebration is to blurt that he was molested at camp as a kid. Jeeeeesus. Kyle’s reasoning is that he got caught up in Marc's energy, which, while still funny and uncomfortable, actually rings true. It's why so many guests on the podcast end up spilling their guts — because Maron is never not primed to spill his own.
Just before Marc can discover Walter White's buried millions under his house, José Luis shows up to save the day. And sure, he'll casually shit all over Maron and Kyle's panicky gas masks with his standard-issue red bandana. No big deal, muchachos. Have a seat.
The already terrific episode has a golden finisher, too: Maron records his closure-tastic monologue in the garage and ends up visiting his dying ex-father in-law. It’s not played for any kind of a laugh, and the emotionality feels real and earned. This unexpected flair for restraint is one of Maron’s most intriguing assets. Add to that a quiet closing shot of Marc and Kyle on the porch, and the show’s second installment is definitively more assured than the pilot.
• What's this half–theme song? I get wanting to distance Maron from WTF, but why not just use the WTF theme song? It's so good.
• When Kyle wraps the molestation bit with, "What about the counselor that was watching us?" I'm reminded what a veteran joke-writer Maron is. He's been doing this for decades — coming up with a funny/awkward idea, talking it through in his head and then onstage, testing and tweaking the material, and eventually coming up with the perfect tag. The pilot also featured at least one of these especially clever, comic’s comic-style nod-your-head-in-appreciation jokes, the one about Maron’s pregnant ex “having kittens.”
• Kyle's pumped-up "get that goddamned thing, Marc — and beat the shit out of it!" careening into a bumbling apology for being "the stupidest" is my favorite laugh of the episode, though. "Just take it easy, fake-fireman," from Marc to Leary, is great as well.
• Maron did three episodes of WTF last week and three this week, rather than the usual two, just so you know. The dude is unstoppable right now.
• And I’ll leave you with a perfect tweet I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone even remotely interested in Maron missing: “IFC airing @MaronIFC back-to-back with The Shining right now. Hard to know where one ends and the other begins.” Beautiful work, @ProducerMcD. Beautiful.