Maron had a lot stacked against it. The immediate, unfair comparisons to that great show on FX that is taking this year off, for one. The fact that the show’s built-in audience knew everything or felt like they knew everything about Marc Maron, who played a character very similar to his public persona so that any change from reality to television was dissected and obstructed whatever comedy was actually taking place. And if you weren’t aware, Marc Maron kept on performing and recorded and put out his podcast that started this entire personal renaissance in the first place during the nine weeks Maron’s first season was on the air. Plus there was his new book that welcomed itself into the world a mere three days before the season began, so yes, overexposure was certainly a possibility. But after an iffy beginning, Maron really shined. Hit it out of the park. Nailed it. Season three finale of M*A*S*H’d it, as Marc would have probably said if that funny scene with Kyle had continued.
Oh, Kyle. If I were as self-absorbed as Marc Maron and “Marc Maron,” I’d suspect that Kyle existed just to piss me off. For one thing, being born in the late 80s or early 90s is no excuse to have never heard of M*A*S*H or Alan Alda, but dammit that kind of thing probably happens in America all the time. For another, he’s the outlier who I’m fairly certain does not exist in Marc’s actual world, so he should really not work and should stick out like a sore, phony thumb. But instead Josh Brener’s character is great; how he aggravates and subsequently builds Marc’s character is fun to watch.
The small things are what I enjoyed the most. Marc’s overall disconnect with the minds of twentysomethings was a great recurring gag on the show. I liked how naive Marc was in “Mexican Angel” with Jen’s friends, when he just assumed he could take them at face value and never consider that the youths do not have his best interests at heart. Or the joke of how if he had kept his shitty agent, he would never have appeared in Kyle’s zombie web series Monster Roommate, and would have had a perfect excuse to cop out of the Bobcat Goldthwait/Eric Stoltz production where he was a space traveling hobo named Bobo (naturally).
When Maribeth Monroe — you know her as the boss on Workaholics and the woman in those DirecTV ads with all of the similes — showed up as sex-obsessed poet Justine in “Dominatrix,” the fourth episode of the series, the show began to take off. “Internet Troll,” “Dead Possum,” and “Marc’s Dad” were uncomfortable, perhaps by design, focusing on subjects like mental illness and the failures of our fathers, subjects that were too expansive for a fresh-out-of-the-box series. Maron also seemed to insist on giving his guest stars all of the funny lines, which was generous but kind of misguided and strange, not helping himself be liked by the casual television viewer and being untrue to himself (guy can be funny). It established the dark clouds and the miasma of the (anti-) hero without the man’s comicness, which isn’t any fun. But by the end of “Dominatrix,” Monroe’s character has sex with Marc’s father Judd Hirsch as an act of revenge. The previous week, Hirsch was awkwardly selling suspect medicine to Jeff Garlin and confirming Marc’s stories of his manic behavior, existing exclusively as an example of where Maron came from and how heavy the burden of his family is that rests on his shoulders. Next time, Hirsch was the guy on the receiving end of a revenge lay. It was funny and not completely out of the blue because we had seen Larry Maron and his RV outside of Marc’s home earlier in the episode, but it didn’t feel like the show was selling out and giving in to an easy laughs school of humor as much as it was Maron just lightening up. Because of the established strong voice at the center, the heft is built-in, the heavy lifting taken care of. There will never be a danger of “selling out” with Marc Maron around, because he’d be the first to remark upon how ridiculous the situation is.
“Sponsor,” the Danny Trejo episode, was probably Maron’s finest twenty-one minutes. It was essentially “What if Marc Maron was Ethan Hawke in Training Day?,” which one would think would be great only on paper and a pathetic joke in reality, but instead hilariously exhibited the difference between what constitutes problems for Marc Maron and what real problems are. “Sex Fest” introduced the Jen character, going through Maron’s six stages of a relationship over a single weekend. It both established the relationship that would engulf the remainder of the season and contained the funniest line of the series: guest star Dana Gould surprisingly considering the request of the strange comedian whose podcast’s hook was two people in a bath tub together talking. Instead of Gould giving the man a hard no like Marc had done earlier, he innocently asked, “But there is hot water?” “Jen Moves to L.A.” was important, allowing a James Adomian to act as Brian Burkman, the hackiest comic in the world. This time, the caricature nature of the incidental character worked to the show’s advantage, because Maron’s freakout over how Jen could have sex with someone like that was great. “DO YOU THINK HE’S FUNNY?!” was seemingly Marc’s only question for Jen when he confronted her, as if by the affiliation he would grow a clown nose. The concluding shot, of Marc, Kyle and Jen all watching the computer watching the viral Monster Roommate video, a 21st century Norman Rockwell portrait of family, looked like it should have been scored to a sarcastic “sha na na na”, but when you consider that all of it happened because a man spoke openly of his neuroses and anxieties and his depression and his epic failures to an exponentially bigger audience, it’s touching and possibly an homage to a simpler time.
“Projections” launched Maron into different alternate realities, where Marc daydreamed about what it would be like to be the father of two in an unhappy marriage, or a chef with a chip on his shoulder, or a man in a homosexual relationship, to find what both himself and his old friend Danny suspected to be true: that no matter the scenario Maron would be unhappy and indecisive. It was sort of Marc Maron’s love letter to standup — in those scenarios he was out of the game and more miserable than usual — as well as a hug to Quantum Leap. Marc also allowed himself to actually play the psychotic Bobo next to the director of “Projections” and a couple of episodes Bobcat Goldthwait, who agreed to slip into his old comedic persona and screech that trademark screech alongside him. Fantasy of Stoltz or not, it was an epically big note to play, and it was nailed.
The finale “Mexican Angel” had Marc and Jen moving in together after knowing each other for six weeks, which if it weren’t based on reality would seem like a last ditch effort to appease some network notes asking Marc to get himself a long term love interest. Maron received writing credit for only “Mexican Angel” and the inaugural installment, and the difference in the key, uncomfortable dramatic scenes in the finale compared to the premiere was massive: back then a man was yelling at his pregnant ex-wife, spewing all of the angry thoughts he had carried with him the last few years about a woman he used to love; this past Friday he was screaming at a woman because he was distrustful and afraid because he had fallen in love with her. The bookending effect and the narrative precision was impressive, even if he “cheated” by drawing on personal experiences.
IFC has not renewed Maron for a second season, which is a stupid thing that should be rectified as soon as possible. In the meantime, we’ll just have to find a way to figure out what the guy is up to somehow.