Maron: “Projections”/”Mexican Angel” (Episodes 1.09/1.10)

TV Reviews
Maron: “Projections”/”Mexican Angel” (Episodes 1.09/1.10)

“I love crazy.” – Marc Maron

There’s more to this line—part of Maron’s monologue that ends the first season of his show on IFC—but after 10 episodes with the comedian and podcast host, this is a fine place to start. Over the course of the show’s run, Maron has embraced the crazy—tracking down internet trolls, dallying with a dominatrices and dead possums, and witnessing a weekend sexfest turn into a real relationship. But, I think the season has taught us the “crazy” that Maron thinks he likes is a very particularly managed one. When the crazy gets crazy is when things really get going.

If we’ve gleaned anything about Maron the guy from Maron the character/persona/podcast host, it’s that he’s interested in maintaining control over what, for him, has been a highly effective personal (dis)order. As long as he remains in charge—perhaps most evident when he’s sitting in his garage hosting guests and guiding the WTF ship—he’s in command. The controls are as tightly regulated as his sobriety, really. And even though he’s often revealing his insecurities, he’s got the final cut. Things go how he says they should.

When the podcast ends and the garage door is shoved open, real life intervenes. His deadbeat dad shows up and forces him to confront the same feelings and repressed emotions he does for his listeners’ pleasure, but it’s more real, so he struggles with it. Other, ostensibly more successful figures in entertainment pop up as guests, challenging his (lack of) manhood, extended adolescence and anger issues. His assistant and girlfriend force him to take them seriously as adults. The “crazy” surreality Marc maintains is a house of cards—it’s carefully constructed but on shaky ground that can be easily disrupted either by his own imperfections or by the intrusions of others around him who force him out of his shell. Essentially, the show’s first season has been a series of these intrusions. We’re just along for the ride.

In the spirit of the network dumping the penultimate and (um…) ultimate episodes of Maron’s first season on us in one night, I’m going to tackle both at once, assessing how far we’ve come through more than two months in Maron-land. More than ever, the themes that have been woven through the first season—adulthood, responsibility, (im)maturity—are on display in the hour of television we’re getting here. For what the show has lacked sometimes in basic plotting of its episodes, the recurrence of motifs, themes and ideas has more than made up for the struggles of youth.

“Projections,” the first half hour, is for the most part a set-piece where Marc is projecting, as per usual. In this case, though, he’s doing it in reverse—rather than foisting his own issues onto others, he’s turning the lens in the other direction. He meets with a director (Eric Stoltz) and former college friend who has become wealthy, much to Maron’s chagrin. They discuss a part in a movie where Marc will play a semi-enlightened homeless person. The payoff—health insurance and a guaranteed payday. Maron’s nervous to play the fool—over lunch he begs to make sure his fool has a certain Shakespearean dignity.

As Maron looks around the restaurant, he imagines himself in the bodies of those around him—an unhappy husband with a disillusioned wife and bratty kids, a member of an ugh-worthy promiscuous gay couple, and the snarky restaurant chef. He could’ve easily played any of these roles, but each of them is just as damaged as he is already.

He also unhesitatingly admits that he thinks he could’ve been the successful director sitting on the opposite side of the table. He’s jealous of his foil’s success. In this way, a growling Bobby Slayton is the perfect podcast guest because the two can commiserate in the “angry old comic” sort of way. They’ve made their beds, and deep down they know the choices they made were the ones that were right for themselves.

Over the weeks, we’ve seen Maron’s selfishness on full display. In this case, though, his devotion to his cause—himself—was his ace in the hole. He worked to become a successful comic, but it came at the expense of two marriages and, if we’re to believe the show’s version of his story, any real, substantial relationships with others.

The largest place Maron’s been projecting his anxieties onto in recent weeks has been his relationship with Jen, which is the topic of the finale, “Mexican Angel.” Adam Scott’s here but he’s probably the most egregiously wasted of all the podcast guests this season. I hope they figure out how to incorporate them better going forward.

In addition to their age difference, Maron’s biggest issues stem from an inability to trust Jen and a semi-conscious desire not to have to take her too seriously, both of which were on display in last week’s “Jen Moves to L.A.” Weeks have passed since she and Maron came to a peace and apparently she’s moved out of Kyle’s apartment and into an even more problematic living situation with a large family of mostly silent landlords. She tells Marc she’s been evicted and asks if she can leave her belongings at his place.

This, of course, sends Marc off the deep end. We’ve come not to expect anything less. But in this case, it seems almost as if Marc wants Jen to be lying for a variety of twisted reasons. First off, as he realizes when he follows her to a party, he too-often fathers her, scolding and admonishing like a parent taking some strange glee out of dropping an “I told you so.” Her lie gives him the relationship higher ground—terrain he defends fiercely because he thinks that his age means he’s supposed to.

Perhaps most importantly, though, if she’s lying, it gives him an excuse to say no to having her move in. The lie—or Marc’s perception of it—creates artificial distance between them. As long as he thinks she’s lying (and therefore can’t trust her), it’s a built-in excuse to keep things casual and avoid the onset of serious, real feelings.

The conclusion of their fight—a “Deus ex Mexican” who has just lost his wife and overhears them arguing—is probably way too quick and easy a solution, but it was all about Marc all along, anyway. Once he’s finally ready to admit that he loves Jen back (she dropped the three fatal words into their fight a few minutes earlier), they reconcile. And if he hadn’t been brought to the big kids’ table kicking and screaming like he has been all year, we really wouldn’t have a show in the first place.

Maron’s come a long way since he self-aggrandizingly cornered @Dragonmaster at a D&D session 10 episodes ago. As we’ve watched him interact with the rest of the cast, he’s been forced to care less and less about himself and, more and more, find ways to fit them into his carefully manicured life. Though a lot of the people he came into contact with—Manny the ex-con in recovery, Justine the dominatrix—have been caricatures, they’ve helped him realize that his real relationships with his father, Kyle and Jen, are more than single episode-long affairs. Though he may love the crazy, the real…the regular…is the most scary for Maron because it means a monumentally higher risk that requires him to exhale, take off his headphones and step outside of the garage. I can’t think of a more fitting “meta-phor” for the show itself.

Since Maron went all Woody Allen on us to start the pilot, the screen’s always been about him. He’s the point-of-view, the hero and the villain all at once, and this show is, I guess, an ex post facto telling of his coming-of-age as it is anything else. Maron debuted one week after the release of Marc’s latest book, Attempting Normal. Faced with attempting it on screen, Maron has to accept the toughest parts may still be to come.

Season Rating: 7.7/10

It’s been a pleasure recapping the first season for you these last few weeks. I hope we get to do it again in season two!

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