Photo: Chris Ragazzo/IFC/Fox
After a couple of weeks all about love and ladies, Maron’s back to the arena of masculinity and respect. It begins with Marc confronting a comically hatted barista about disrespecting the art of espresso. Marc is obsessed with integrity, unless we’re talking about a coffee bean. “I’m just trying to get it into my body as quickly and efficiently as possible so life feels like it’s worth living for two hours,” Maron says with trademark intensity. “Flavor is secondary to the buzz. Don’t you get it? You’re just a drug dealer.” It’s funny on its own, and also solid foreshadowing for an upcoming spin though the actual drug world.
Ken Jeong is at Maron’s house, theoretically for a podcast taping but basically just so he can be a sounding board for Maron’s problem du jour. I love the idea of Marc inviting a celebrity over solely so he can talk about himself this much. The “WTF” podcast is infamous for Marc’s ability to worm himself into anyone’s personal history — or to flat-out “make things about me” — but he’s also an incredibly empathetic listener, and he knows when to shut up. Not so on Maron. We don’t get a single piece of info about Jeong himself, except that he maybe digs Blind Melon. (I’ll say, though, that it’s refreshing even to hear Jeong speak in his real voice and be his cool self after suffering through The Hangover Part III.) Marc starts familiarizing us with his affinity for the vice-ridden side of life, for “playing chicken with my sanity.” He misses it, or the idea of it.
Exit Ken Jeong, enter Danny Trejo as Manny, a recovering alcoholic in awe of Maron’s formidable decade of sobriety. Manny has been taking his addiction pains out on food; the idea of Machete eating twenty cookies is a crime to put in our heads then not show us. The macho, actors-reading-lines quality of Marc and Manny’s interaction is distracting at first, but they find a convincing groove as time passes, particularly the more times they ride in the car together. Marc continues savoring the fact that he was once a badass young man. His “my behavior almost killed me” story ends with him jerking off four times.
Maron agrees to be Manny’s sponsor but ends up starring in a kind of neurotic version of Training Day. Even in a dangerous situation, Maron can’t resist making it about himself. “Who’s the Jewface lawyer?” an imposing druglord asks Manny of Maron. “Ha, my mother wishes!” Marc rejoins. “Actually I’m a comedian, and I do a podcast out of my house.” He tries for some cred by telling the drug guy that he lives in the same neighborhood, not some bourgeois L.A. enclave. Jesus, Marc — zip it.
But when the drug guy wants Manny to drink some tequila to celebrate Manny leaving “the life,” Maron can’t resist wielding his newfound influence as the good angel. “Are we even debating that addiction is a disease?” (Good God, is this thing going off the rails.) “You don’t trust a man that won’t drink with you? That doesn’t even make sense. What is this, the Wild West?” Somehow this idiot ploy works, because the drug dealer has an uncle who’s battled sobriety. “Just FYI, you shouldn’t be so condescending,” he tells Maron after the tension’s cleared. And suddenly we’re having a mini dialogue about gentrification, and Marc’s pulling the “I buy my cat food at a bodega” card. The cherry on the face-palm sundae is Marc talking out his food and body issues with an uncomprehending but respectful Trejo in the car.
Marc heads from one awkward scenario to another, playing race-panicking watchman/getaway driver while Trejo beats on a guy inside. Maron saves the day again, stopping Manny from murdering someone. They have another winning exchange in the car. “I don’t want your blood money,” Marc says as Manny tucks a favor into Marc’s shirt pocket. “Whatever — I stopped you from killing a guy, you chip in for gas. Fair trade.” Trejo’s a killer with a sweet tooth, so they head for some emergency ice cream. Maron takes a lick and Manny won’t take it back, ‘cause cooties. He’s a complex crook.
Idling outside the journey’s final waypoint, Maron is exhausted. “In one day, I’ve been in a literal Mexican standoff, harassed by 10-year-olds, made an accomplice, and I even ate chocolate-chip ice cream. Shit.” Manny sends him to a dark doorway with a piñata. It’s no surprise when the piñata turns out to be for a kiddo Manny cares about, his granddaughter. The guys part on good terms. Hopefully there’ll be a second season, and hopefully Trejo will return.
Marc, newly endowed with trace amounts of Trejo swagger and also a $100 bill, bosses the obnoxious barista around and leaves a handsome tip. Maron exits in swaggering slo-mo, chomping a guilt-free jelly doughnut.
• Maron’s a big Breaking Bad fan. Anyone think he grilled Trejo for war stories from the Tortuga scene?
• Is it weird to anyone how we’ve seen zero of Maron’s life as a stand-up comic? The show acknowledges he’s a comedian but shows zero of that part of his life. I understand the choice (and I bet it’s a distinct choice not to mirror Louie or Seinfeld), but it’s strange. It’s like TV Maron has the history and the lifestyle of a comedian, but never performs comedy and almost never talks about performing comedy. Maybe it would feel forced to reference a recent set where he killed or bombed, or to see him going into or out of a comedy club, but that forced feeling would be less offputting than the show completely ignoring Marc’s profession of more than two decades. And he’s a fucking great, completely unique comedian, is the thing.
• The 400th episode of “WTF” is coming soon, and it looks like it will land in tandem with the tail-end of Maron’s first season. The man’s all about synchronicity — don’t forget he published his memoir days before IFC premiered the show.