It’s another night of Maron on IFC and another relationship is falling apart. After losing his girlfriend and surviving a visit from his mother, Marc is left just as he likes to be—alone and in control, with only his cats serving as his equally mercurial companions. But borrowing from a semi-recent real life incident, one of the cats, Boomer, has gone missing, and the evening’s half hour centers on Marc’s not-so-Incredible Journey through his neighborhood in search of his feline friend.
Along the way, we meet many of the neighborhood denizens—a cranky elderly neighbor; Bernie, an unstable, gun-wielder; and a drug addict. They’re all men and they’re all alone—some [let’s be honest…I mean “I, for the purposes of this review”] might argue that they could represent the various permutations and “darker timelines” Marc could have slouched down. Throughout his career, Marc (and his “Maron” character perhaps even more so) has often wrestled with his own success (“why him?”) and faced criticism from other, more famous faces. Maybe his success was luck after all. He could’ve wound up a junkie panhandling on the street, and, as far as we know, he could still wind up elderly and alone.
Or maybe they’re just characters. Over the first fifteen episodes of the series, there have been moments of really interesting analysis, where Maron bounces himself off of the people he meets. These intersections—when Marc’s no longer in control behind his garage door—force him to deal with the “real,” exposing him to danger and, for that matter, pain. The way we learn about him is lent perspective by people who are—for the most part—better-adjusted. As a result, when he’s firing on all cylinders, Marc’s pain can be our gain.
But on the whole, “Boomer Lives” is a meandering 30 minutes with one (or two, probably) too many characters strong-armed into Maron-land, where the campus rambles, the carnies are surly, and the entertainment is, unfortunately, somewhat lacking. In the interest of giving the show the credit it has—for the most part—earned, we can go prospecting for some of the deeper themes that might’ve just missed the mark in a midseason half hour. Maybe it’s about attaching meaning to things—a cat, a brown leather jacket—and how even developing relationships with non-humans can leave us open to pain when they leave us. Maybe it’s about not being able to count on anyone but yourself. Maybe it’s just about another important relationship in Marc’s life that’s going to pieces.
Of course, as podcast guest Wyatt Cenac reminds us, attaching so much meaning to a creature as capricious as a cat is a recipe for rejection. Cats aren’t needy, which makes them a good fit for Maron’s universe. But maybe Boomer’s disappearance is ringing a bit too Jen-like in the wake of a relationship that we watched develop and die. The problem, though, is that other than the series premiere—during which Marc lugged a sickly cat throughout Los Angeles—we haven’t really been shown how much his cats matter (if you listen to the WTF podcast, you realize the answer is “a lot”). Without proper development (why introduce so many new faces all at once?), why are we supposed to care about any of these people?
At the same time, most of his relationship failures are a result of personal irreconcilabilities, whether it’s Marc’s dad’s dependability issues, Marc’s own misanthropy, or the recurring motifs of age and identity. In this case, Marc apparently didn’t do anything wrong. And he still wound up hurt. I acknowledge that Jen’s departure is supposed to be mirroring things here. But for me, they’re two different animals.
It’s possible, too, that Marc sees more of himself in the cat—a tough warrior out “carousing,” “looking for pussy,” and surviving. He’s been set free of his relationship, free to roam the outdoors, drink from sewers, and prey upon fresh meat. Cenac, like many of the podcast guests, tries (but ultimately fails in the delivery) to insert a little reality into the discourse. It’s a cat. Cats wander.
The real theme of the episode—if there is any—is what happens to Marc when he opens himself up to danger outside of his own control. Each of the other people he interacts with has the potential to hurt him. Bernie could do so physically…you know…with his gun. His pretty new (and also cat-less) neighbor, Shay, is engaging and friendly. But as Marc’s about to put himself out there and attempt a rebound, her female fiancée foils that advance as well.
The relationship between pet and owner is supposed to be a fairly straightforward (and transactional) one. The owner provides the food; the pet provides the companionship. There are strings attached, of course, but unlike, say…a girlfriend…a cat isn’t typically going to surprise you, disappoint you, or let you down. You’re supposed to be able to count on it to be a pet. People are less reliable.
Marc’s touched on this before, but it’s even more clear tonight that, as far as he’s concerned, a solitary existence is the kind least likely to cause pain. Why open yourself up to another being (human or animal) if it’s inevitably going to end poorly?
On the podcast and in many of the series’ best episodes, Maron’s often at his best when he’s exploring what causes pain. Why do relationships fail? Why are we capable of causing others to hurt? And why are we such sadists…constantly searching for companionship at the risk of hurting ourselves more? And while Maron seems like the ultimate candidate to espouse a “when-it-rains-it-pours” philosophy, the saddest times are only really sad when placed in their proper context. “You can’t avoid pain; it’s how you handle it,” he says in yet another sad-sack monologue. But in this case, things probably should’ve been handled better.
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.