Our somewhat-likable-but-really-just-tolerable hero Marc Maron attempts to set up a new social circle in “Marc’s New Friend,” the second episode of the series’ second season, which aired tonight on IFC. Throughout much of Season One, the Maron character problematized his own age (he’s 50) in relation to those younger (his assistant, Kyle, and girlfriend, Jen) and older (his unstable parents). It wasn’t surprising that he never fit in among either group—or with the coffeehouse hipsters he clashes with in the show’s cold open, for that matter—because others have different answers to his questions, or are asking different questions altogether. So maybe what Maron needs at this point in his life is a contemporary…a brother-in-smarm.
This comes in the form of podcast guest and fellow man-of-a-certain-age Ray Romano, who everybody…loves. (Sidebar: I recognize that the episode utilized all the Romano-themed puns I would’ve peppered this recap with already, so I figured I’d just dump them here and move on). To the somewhat salty Romano’s surprise, words like “fun,” “together,” and “young,” insult the hypersensitive Maron. Romano’s more willing to roll with the punches, though he admits, too, that friendship is somewhat hard to come by once you’re conversation topics start with golf and end with masturbation.
(Romano does deliver an incredibly Maron-esque line when describing his time on the podcast, calling it “the illusion of revealing myself without revealing myself.” Say what you will about the show’s run so far, but it has exhibited some serious meta mastery so far, at the very least.)
Kyle (Josh Brener) returns from Silicon Valley and is back to being the most unhelpful assistant ever. In spite of esoteric fashion photographer references (I had to Google “Richard Avedon,” too), Kyle’s still semi-starstruck, putting on a brave face for the celebrity guests. The rest of the time, he’s insubordinate and moody, but Maron keeps him on the payroll because of their strange symbiosis that developed last year: Maron pays Kyle just to “be around” and be…really…whatever Marc wants him to be. Sometimes that’s a friend, but sometimes it’s solely so Maron can condescend him and prove that older is wiser. In this case, Kyle’s able to refract that criticism with his own, arguing that the two of them may have more in common than Maron wants to admit.
Despite Kyle’s protestations and due in no small part to a litany of well-placed friendship signs from the cosmos (the Romano cheese in Marc’s refrigerator door was quite well-placed), Maron pursues (be)friending Romano with an awkwardness that belies his many years. He’s suddenly sixteen again, stuttering on the phone, standing cross-armed and awkwardly in his kitchen whilst incessantly repeating the phrase “hang out,” and, of course, upspeaking.
Friendship shouldn’t be this difficult, really, but the episode also briefly touches on questions of fame-inhibited friendship. Romano is more famous than Maron. Full stop. But regardless, who wouldn’t want to be friends with Ray Romano? He’s famous, chill, and…everybody…loves…him (Sorry). But after a nice afternoon of coffee—back at the same table as the open and sneering at the twenty-somethings who probably subscribe to the WTF Podcast—Maron finds himself trying (too) hard to be whatever Romano wants him to be. This leaves him holding Romano’s shopping bags and asking—like countless unpaid interns have asked themselves in moments of introspection—at what point is running an errand or holding a bag or opening a car door “helping out,” and at what point is it subservient “bitchwork?” The National Enquirer is on the case.
Marc’s assistance does net him a second friend-date, though, and he’s working to look the part of a hockey fan. This is fairly similar territory to last week’s episode—what does it say about the writer himself that his character is constantly a “pretender,” I wonder?—as he tries to fake his way into hockey fandom. Kyle and Marc are humorously oblivious to jersey-shopping; perhaps Marc’s “hockey hat” idea isn’t the worst idea.
I’m not sure if this is just my own nit-picky hockey fandom, but some might argue there are a few rules of jersey etiquette here. For one, Mike Cammalleri—#13 on his jersey but #1 in Maron’s heart, apparently—hasn’t been a member of the Los Angeles Kings since 2008. Secondly, choosing a “throwback jersey” (this yellow variant was worn from 1980-88) is a clear rookie move. And finally, the jersey even seems to be mislabeled—by my brief research (again, thanks be to Google), Camalleri never once wore the captain’s “C” during his time in Los Angeles. If this is the show’s attempt at the ultimate hockey noob-ishness, full points should be awarded. Though for what it’s worth, Maron has a lot more Marian Gaborik (read: head case) in him than he does Cammalleri.
All that considered, Marc and Ray’s bro-hang is awkward dating 101. Romano maintains his cool—dropping references to foreign locales (I found calling Malibu “the Bu” quite hilarious, though I may be alone on that one) and sports (Casey Stengel > KC of the Sunshine Band)—while Maron is just trying to keep up. There are smart riffs on various ages here—the half-dozen television remotes, the string cheese and root beer—but the real reckoning comes when another interlocutor interrupts Marc’s act and forces things back to reality.
This time it’s Romano’s wife, who smartly asks, “Why is there a grown man wearing a hockey jersey?” before raking Romano over the coals for not acting his age. It’s the kind of accountability that, for better or worse, Maron has no one to hold him to. If anything, it illumines why Maron resists hanging out with people his own age—when he does, he’s forced to acknowledge all the responsibilities he’s somehow been able to shirk. And as Romano and his wife rush off to fulfill the obligations of their age and stature, Marc realizes that he’d even prefer watching sports to that.
I always like when the monologue isn’t used as a sort of narrative interruption to make sure we’ve gotten the point of the episode, and this week’s is particularly deus ex monologue. “What is friendship when you’re older? What am I looking for in a friend?” Marc asks. The answer is, as you’d expect, predictably Maron uncool: “Somebody who will accept me for who I am—a 50 year old man who knows all the words to ‘Cat Scratch Fever.’ Despite himself.”
It’s fair to say that a lot of what success Maron (not Maron) arrives upon is despite himself. He’s cripplingly self-flagellating, but maintains an attractiveness that is, as he says, both “satisfying and embarrassing at the same time.” Though I imagine his bromance (is there a more un-Maron word?) with Romano is drawing to a close, he seems to be appreciating Kyle a bit more, offering him the throwback jersey and a cigar as a peace offering. Kyle’s not interested in the cigar—it’s an old-school gift that encapsulates Maron’s anxiety pretty well. But with things resolved, they’ll probably kick back, relax, and watch an episode of Parenthood. Oh, wait…
John Vilanova is a New York and Philadelphia based writer and academic currently serving as the managing editor of Philadelphia Style magazine. His work has appeared in publications including Paste, Rolling Stone, Vogue, and others. Follow him on Twitter.