Maron premieres tonight at 10:00 p.m. eastern on IFC. The second episode, “Dead Possum”, is available on YouTube.
Marc Maron and Louis C.K. are inextricably linked together, so let’s just get these two facts out of the way:
A: Yes, Maron is Marc Maron’s Louie.
B: No, Maron is not as funny as Louie. Not yet anyway.
An elaboration on Fact A: He did it: Marc Maron has successfully put a television show on the air that truly feels like a televised version of what being Marc Maron is really like. Even though he shares executive producer credit with four other people (including Denis Leary), and does not get writing credit for every episode — unlike you know who — every syllable of every word spoken on the show seems to come from the worldview of a self-loathing individual that is constantly cranky and uncomfortable. The shit is dark, to the point where if I had not known anything about Marc Maron before watching the show, I would have constantly wondered what exactly led the main character in Maron to be cursed to walk the Earth without ever catching a break, to be constantly insulted and put down by virtually every human being he says hello to, being told by various people for various reasons why he is a shithead (after providing character backstory on the aforementioned shithead), without putting up a fight. But this is Marc Maron’s show, and no matter how successful he gets, that just might be an exaggerated yet most accurate version of how he will always see things.
The degree of verisimilitude is rather commendable, but since Marc Maron is an open book, and we all know the big moments that led him to becoming a podcast star and comedy bigshot, there are times when watching Maron where you become too aware that you are watching a television show. The most glaring example would be in an episode where Marc finally cracks the top 10 on the iTunes top downloads list when he uploads an interview with Jeff Garlin. Maron confronts his agent in a rare moment of triumph, who had just previously dismissed podcasts entirely and was too preoccupied with his shinier, happier, more naive client Pete Holmes to care much for our hero, and how the scene unfolds seems too convenient.
However, and this is something I kind of wish weren’t the case, the one character that is most clearly a figment of Maron and the writing staff’s imagination, designed to provide comic relief, brings the most entertainment out of the show more than anyone else. Marc’s assistant Kyle, played by Josh Brener, is a character that seems to appear from an entirely different show, mostly because he is the only one around from his peer group, and as a result annoys the hell out of Maron in a playfully funny way.
More on Fact B: In the early episodes, Maron focuses on subjects that preoccupies the thoughts of overthinking comedians: in “Internet Troll”, Maron obsesses over how he is perceived by haters that are just going to hate. In “Dead Possum”, Maron fixates both on mortality when an ex father-in-law gets bad medical news, and then on manhood, and how ill prepared his father made him to handle simple chores that traditionally men deal with. In “Marc’s Dad”, well, Judd Hirsch shows up as Maron’s father, a manic depressive that rides up in an RV in front of Marc’s house to sell illegal vitamins and argue with his son, with only Andy Kindler to mediate the verbal blows. None of those topics are a standard and obvious jumping point for comedy. Louis C.K. can manage to make any dour and depressing situation funny whenever he wants to kick in some surrealism, which he had perfected through his nineties short films. The comedy doesn’t clash directly with the darkness of the scene and diminish the weight of it all, because it borders on the supernatural and becomes part of the whole “isn’t this all messed up?” conversation. Marc Maron, nor anyone else for that matter, can do that. But what Maron and Maron can do, and what Maron and Maron does actually do, is provide his guest stars the lion’s share of the bon mots, dishing them off like a John Stockton of comedy while Maron’s character is too busy fuming and rationalizing. A zen, not giving a shit Dave Foley uttering one liners as Marc reads a troll’s mean criticisms come to mind first. The end result though is a show asking a few profound questions without having the time or proper format to actually answer them.
Eventually though, the show turns to the well-tread plot but always universal problem of getting and hanging on to a significant other, i.e. in Maron’s case, a lady. When women are manipulating Marc, or when Maron gets in his own way of his happiness, suddenly the protagonist is driving all of the action and basking in the punchline spotlight. When Maron takes turns with Workaholics’ Maribeth Monroe or Gina Gershon in conducting various forms of sexual, psychological warfare, more familiar but legitimate comedic beats come through, without shedding much precious authenticity. It may be slightly broader comedy and transparently less profound, but it’s better than overreaching.
So in other words: Maron is good and gets better. Like most shows, the higher the episode number, the better everyone involved knows the characters, and the more the comedy flows. We’re all pretty sure we know what makes Marc Maron tick. But even Maron needs time to figure out what makes his misery funny.