Throughout Maron’s first season-and-a-half on IFC, the stunted comedian has often allowed guest players to deliver the lines that come to define whatever 22-minute issue we’re going to be tackling in any given episode. This week’s Greek chorus, as it were, is perhaps the most unexpected vessel for Marc’s weekly (a)morality play—a disinterested worker at a Hollywood STD clinic, who delivers unsurprising news: “You have a very disturbing relationship.”
While that could apply to every non-cat relationship in Marc’s life, this week the focus shifts to Marc’s mother, Toni (played by Sally Kellerman), who we briefly met early last season, and who has power-walked back into Marc’s life just in time to fill the void left by Jen. Marc needs someone else to give him a hard time, right?
Marc’s issues with his father were covered in-depth last year, but maternal relations seem to create an equally flagging familial situation. She’s disappointed because Marc’s selfish (it’s one of his more self-evident qualities, isn’t it?); he’s frustrated because she’s cutting into the time he’s set aside to not do anything. Kyle is thrilled to see her (she got him the job), and, surprisingly, Marc seems equally happy to have Kyle around for once. When Kyle’s applying for his next assistant job, “reality buffer” seems an appropriate job skill to list. His presence, as I’ve suggested in recent weeks, creates the absurdity that allows Marc to hide from anything more real than his mother’s breasts. Agua fresca, anyone?
It rings almost too true to Maron form when Marc’s visiting mother asks her son to help her be a “dumb tourist,” with visions of drinks at the Chateau Marmont and dinner at Mr Chow. Though his parents are separated, it is easy to see why last year Marc wound up the way he did—the neuroses and selfishness seem to have been dolled out in equal measure from both sides, and he’s even more of a spoiled brat when she’s around. The crabapple didn’t fall all that far from the tree, though. Toni claims to want to see his day-to-day (which involves an abnormally large amount of time spent sitting on the couch and playing unplugged electric guitar riffs), but what she really wants is to fashion her own vision of what his life should be like, complete with late night Richard Gere rendezvous.
Luckily, Marc’s friend and fellow podcast host Dave Anthony has an even better buffer: a man of an even more certain age, his father, the eminently dad-like Richard Riehle. Bonded by their dislike of guacamole and their sons’ comedic stylings, “Dave Sr.” and Marc’s mom become fast friends, knocking off for ice cream and finally giving their sons the peace they thought they wanted. [Their bits are funnier than a lot of their sons’ material, aren’t they?]. And kicking it bro-style means Marc gets to have “fun not being the most bitter guy in the room”(see what happens when he hangs out with people less famous than him?).
In their sons’ absence, Toni and Dave’s ice cream dates evolve into something a bit more serious, and the episode becomes a fairly simple “whodunit.” Only in typical Maron fashion, “it” is “given the other septu-plus-genarian a venereal disease.” For what it’s worth, it’s right in line with the usual degree of toilet humor Maron allows himself the rest of the time, and an awkward parent-child STD discussion might as well be the place where Marc and his mom find some common ground.
Her frustration—that her son can reveal so much of himself to strangers but remain guarded with her—gets to the core questions of the show. Why are relationships so hard to keep? Who are we when others are around? And what happens when performing angst gets in the way of dealing with it?
Marc’s pretty responsive and upfront with his mom, admitting his own insecurities frankly and without qualifications or excuses. For once, he’s actually acting like a grown-up. In what is an obvious reversal, Marc is the one who has to drive his mom to a clinic to get tested, taking her out for a power walk afterward to calm her nerves. For someone who has been so consistently self-involved in the time that we’ve known him, it’s a bit too quick of a switch-flip, but all things considered, it’s a welcome one.
There’s no monologue this week (the episode is fairly straightforward), but Rob Riggle makes one of the more interesting podcast guest appearances in the show’s brief existence. The often over-the-top Riggle is restrained and, like many of the guests, unwilling to buy into the dysfunction of the Maron shame cycle, but he seems the most-willing to call the “neurotic Jewish man with mother issues” on his behavior.
As Marc’s mother notes early on in the episode, Maron’s podcast interviews do tend to follow a specific format. First, he leads with some flattery and some general childhood questions, hoping to introduce some sort of drama, which he can then use to come to larger conclusions, and draw the guest into his own dark timeline. It’s formulaic, but for the most part, it works. I guess we could say the same about tonight’s episode.
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.