“Chicks are hard.”
“No shit, right?”
From the initial announcement of Marc Maron’s semi-fictional, semi-biographical show that revolved around his life as a comedian and a podcaster, the first thought that came to anyone was, “Oh, like Louie, right?” Given Marc’s proclivity for bouts of narcissism and sensitivity, one can imagine that somewhat obvious comparison drove him absolutely insane. Marc Maron, a man who was beaten up in the rough and tumble world of stand-up comedy for decades only to find new fame created by his last ditch effort of his interview/monologue driven podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, he has had a considerable amount of time to cultivate his persona and it shows in his new television show – Maron. Marc is earnest, cranky, and seems to vacillate between making you like him and then defying you to continue to like him. With the first season of Maron finishing on Friday, I thought I’d put together a few thoughts that I had on the season and what makes it a little bit more important than your standard sitcom.
Guest Stars: If there’s one thing that Marc did in this show, it was to fit as many fellow comedians/entertainers into it as humanly possible. Beyond the actual guests on his podcast, fellow comedians act as his friends, his confidantes, basically his entire support system (other than his cats, of course). Andy Kindler was the perfect best friend/comedic foil to Marc’s insecurity; Mark Duplass gave him sage wisdom on his taste in women; Aubrey Plaza was rightfully creeped out by Kyle and his leering; Judd Hirsch was a welcome addition as Marc’s manic depressive eccentric father, who insists on living in his RV outside Marc’s house; Gina Gershon, Pete Holmes, Dov Davidoff, Dave Foley, Ken Jeong, Jeff Garlin, Dennis Leary, Bobby Slayton, Eric Stoltz, Danny Trejo, Adam Scott… if you can think of a comedian or actor, they were likely in this season. And in ten episodes no less!
The Podcast as Therapy: Maron utilizes the podcast as a sort of confessional in the reality show sense that lets Marc articulate but also ruminate on the events of the show as they happen. Rather than clumsily explaining this through dialogue, we are given an exclusive, unfiltered view of his thought process. He is, like all of us, pretty damn unsure of what to do basically all of the time. The usage of podcast monologues as narration or interviews as a way to work out his feelings with his particular significant other gives this show a unique format of storytelling.
Gender and Maron: For a show that has Marc sleeping with a lot (and I mean, a lot) of women, the power dynamics seemed to have a subversive trend. From Justine, the dominatrix; to Alexia, the age appropriate woman who turns out to be married and only sleeping with Marc to get him on her 14 year old son’s podcast; to Jen, the maybe-stalker, maybe-hoarder, sexfest-er, who will put up with none of Marc’s shit and will scream back at him when he yells at her; these are not traditional relationships that are portrayed on sitcoms. Marc acts as a passive entrant when it comes to relationships and sex, content to peruse his fan mail to find ‘low hanging fruit’ to have sex with… but the situations he is put in by this show force him to wrestle with what a relationship should be and what love is and whether he’s too fucked up to know what to do with love if it ever came to him again.
Nora Zehetner (most recently in Grey’s Anatomy) was what pulled this season together for me. Jen, her character (based on Marc’s then-girlfriend, now-fiancé Jessica), is a puzzle to Marc. And because of this, he tries everything he can to sabotage his budding relationship with her. Jen, completely undeterred, ignores Marc’s bullshit and forces him into making mature decisions rather than languish in a temper tantrum that he may or may not have been in for decades. Neither Marc nor Jen are in control of their emotions, so explosive fights rise and fall in unexpected swells – another uncomfortable aspect that is not usual sitcom fare. Teetering back and forth between control and the lack thereof, Maron subjects its viewers to the less savory parts of relationships that are still just as important as the sweet ones. The good comes with the bad, and this show has a certain bravery for putting it out there in your face.
Favorite Episode: Episode 9, The Compromise: Marc wrestles with maintaining his integrity against his need for basic things like health insurance. To remedy this, he meets with an old friend (Eric Stoltz) who has become an extremely successful director by churning out forgettable, stupid and tasteless films (in Marc’s eyes). Their dinner meeting and subsequent argument on the merits of integrity is peppered with Marc fantasizing himself in different situations trying to see if he would have been happier if he’d chosen: to marry and quit comedy; to turn gay and complacent; or to quit comedy, become a chef, and hit on waitresses. The introspection on both Maron and Stoltz’s part was extremely compelling, and this was one of my favorite episodes of television this year. Maybe being Bobo the Hobo wouldn’t fully destroy Marc’s integrity… as long as he plays it real.
Should I watch? Watch. Absolutely, this is not a perfect show… and the show really doesn’t hit its stride until the last four or so episodes. But, the season is short (10 episodes) and the pedigree of both Maron and the staff surrounding him (Sivert Glarum and Michael Jamin from King of the Hill and Just Shoot Me on the writing staff, and Bobcat Goldthwait directing three episodes) are reasons enough to give Maron a try. Its attempt to do something different in the sitcom genre is both exciting and dangerous. I hope IFC gives it enough time to mature into whatever it ends up becoming.