IFC’s new show Maron opens the way you’d expect it to—with Marc Maron, stand-up, podcast host and possibly clinical narcissist…talking. About himself. Much in the same way he kicks off his WTF Podcast each week, it’s a monologue, a pathos-loaded stream-of-consciousness rumination on his own anxieties, hang-ups, hopes and dreams. But mostly it’s anxieties and hang-ups. Like these monologues, the opening moments of his show are faux-therapy, really—a riff, during which he vacillates between self-aggrandizement and self-immolation…both congratulatory and deferential. It wouldn’t seem right to begin any other way.
Eventually, another voice cuts through the blabber, asking, “Is it important that people know who you are?” It’s the type of question Maron would ask himself in the opening moments of his introduction to a more mainstream audience—he’s willing to whip himself for our enjoyment on the iTunes store. Now, he’s got this TV show and has to figure out how to reconcile the success, which runs against how he projects himself. So Maron the character on Maron the show is even more Maron than Maron the podcast host. Really.
It turns out he’s not speaking to a therapist after all—it’s actually his cats’ veterinarian—and herein lies the first new ground for Maron on TV. He interviews guests on his podcast, but he does so on his terms and in his world. There’s a “Marc Maron conversation” and a “Marc Maron question”—though these guests (he’s hosted Hank Azaria and Huey Lewis this week alone) are often arguably more famous than Maron himself, they’re stepping into his echo chamber and should be prepared to discuss their addictions, failings and disappointments with him, too.
So what happens when a guy this self-involved has to go out in the real world?
The most obvious comparison people will make is to FX’s Louie, the other singularly-named comedian show featuring Louis C.K.—Maron’s on-again friend and comedy compadre. From the outset, Maron is more self-involved, but Louie is unquestionably darker and coming from a place, at times, of deeper pain and a different kind of insecurity. Quite honestly, Maron in particular feels more a next-gen descendant of Curb Your Enthusiasm; the neuroses, set-pieces and general blather are taken right out of the Larry David playbook. Now if only we could get some of that background music.
More monologuery is interspersed throughout the show’s episodes, providing some commentary and setting up the scenes throughout the pilot. He kvetches about the eventuality of running into his ex-wife after a four-year separation and then he finally does so
while carrying a stomach-virus-afflicted cat. She’s with her new husband and pregnant with what Maron calls a “spite-baby;” his hard-edged craven self-involvement here shows his character’s character at his most desperate.
For the final two-thirds of each podcast, Maron brings on his guest—it seems fitting that the show’s first guest star, The Kids In the Hall vet Dave Foley, appears at roughly the end of the episode’s first third. He reclines on Maron’s couch in another callback to a therapy session, only in this case, Maron’s still doing the complaining and it becomes Foley’s job to listen. On Twitter, a user named @DragonMaster is heckling Maron with zingers like, “If whining was jokes, Marc Maron would be a genius.” Maron sets out to find the heckler and confront him, dragging Foley along for the ride.
Couched in Maron’s misadventures is a clever examination of the nature of comedians/audience interaction in the new, digital age. Given the nature of the podcast format, Maron seldom interacts in a live setting with his audiences. They know, see and hear him, but they also get to troll him remotely as he pod-broadcasts into the ether. Maron forces the issue by stepping out of the garage cocoon.
In chasing down @Dragonmaster during his Dungeons & Dragons session, Maron finds a way to make himself look bad in front of the one group he should be ostensibly “cooler” than. When one of the gamers asks why he needs to be liked by everyone, it prompts an interesting duality: “What is this, a troll cage?” he asks. “Am I inside the internet?” For once he’s outside of it, and he has to confront the fact that he doesn’t like what he’s finding.
Eventually, though, he does find a fan in the form of Gus, another middle-aged divorcé living alone with cats. It’s a fitting conclusion—Maron ostensibly produces his podcast for himself, so it’s fitting that the only person who likes him is so similar. In what should come as no surprise, what we’ve learned from Episode 1 is that he’s his own biggest fan.
An although the show seems like it’s going to be going out of its way to make Maron look as awful as possible, I think it’s clear that it’s doing so in greater service to the questions its creator is trying to ask. Because, all being said, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed being around someone so self-involved this much.
• Not to beat a dead horse, but when Maron and Foley are driving around Los Angeles, doesn’t it feel like a Larry David/Richard Lewis adventure?
• During an episode of Season 1 of Girls, two of the male characters—Ray and Charlie—mention the website of their noise-rock band, Questionable Goods. After immediately keying in the web address, I found it disappointingly empty. In Maron’s case, @Dragonmaster does exist, but from what I can tell, he’s a web developer from the Midlands who is apparently unaware he’s been trolling Marc Maron. A little bit of digital synergy here would’ve been a nice touch.
• Loved seeing Erik Charles Nielsen as @Dragonmaster. He’s great.
• As far as the rating goes, it was hard to come up with a number apropos of nothing. I really did enjoy this first episode. Hope you did, too, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season with you.