Maron: TV Review
Fridays, 10 p.m., IFC.
From podcast to TV show, comic Marc Maron makes the jump a funny leap of faith.
Marc Maron has always been funny. But he was never funny in that way that could be boxed up and stuffed into a brightly lit network sitcom with a laugh track. He was always darker, more cynical and perhaps more of a mess than any comedy could handle.
So with a smattering of minor successes, tons of late-night appearances but no big TV show to call his own (or be, God forbid, the wacky neighbor), he started his own podcast, called WTF, in his garage. Interviewing comedians and revealing himself -- flaws, neurosis, opinions, fondness for cats, etc. -- led to an enormously popular and powerful podcast, which in turn led to tonight's debut of his IFC comedy, simply called Maron.
You could quibble and say this is long overdue or just accept the fact that tons of very funny comics have never become as popular as they should be and never got their own show. Or you could even say the timing is actually perfect, since the long declining network dominance eventually led to greater risks on cable, which led to the Small Comedy boom, where very funny shows didn't need 10 million viewers to be a success. From It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia to Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie and even smaller offerings like Portlandia and Children's Hospital, etc., there were outlets trying to make great comedies that didn't have to appeal to the Big Tent crowd over on the broadcast networks (which, in a strange turn of events, is now populated with funny but low-rated -- and expensive -- sitcoms pulling in "cable" numbers).
Anyway, all of this is just a preamble to say that Marc Maron finally got his own show and it's damned funny.
And yes, it's a lot like his podcast in that famous comedians come around to his house and talk, but it's unlike his podcast in that it's scripted, a show about a show, or a show about a man who can't get famous or keep a wife, but has a garage with some recording equipment and a growing number of cats.
Maron is, in fact, surprisingly well-executed in that kind of way where you can imagine him saying, "In a perfect world, I'd have a TV show about the podcast but it would let me branch out a bit with the storylines while keeping the same tendency to over-share my personal issues."
Weirdly enough, voila!. It would be difficult to imagine things going much better for Maron, which takes what's great about the WTF podcast -- Maron's smarts, his profound love of and understanding of comedy and the people who perform it -- and adds a scripted, fictional element where Sally Kellerman can play his mother and Judd Hirsch can play his father and a bevy of real-life comics and friends (Dave Foley, Denis Leary, Andy Kinder, Jeff Garlin, et al.) can stop by to mingle the two worlds and it all works out marvelously and hilariously.
In tonight's episode, a drunk Foley stops by -- on the wrong week -- for his scheduled podcast interview. Things already have been going badly for Maron -- his attempt at flirting with his cat's vet never take off, his fear of seeing his second ex-wife around town come true (plus she's pregnant and happy) and some troll on Twitter is mocking Maron. He's reaching the boiling point. So, instead of doing the podcast with Foley, Maron drags him into Orange County to confront the guy sending the mean tweets.
It goes badly.
Maron really gets going when the series begins to flesh out -- Hirsch as his absentee father is a particularly good episode (and Hirsch is great). In the second episode, Maron gets an unwanted assistant named Kyle (Josh Brener), and the pairing works surprisingly well both as comedy and with some real feelings mixed in. Called "Dead Possum," the episode centers on a podcast appearance by Leary, who says off microphone that he's getting a little worried about Maron, what with the garage filled with self-help books and such. "I think I saw a Joni Mitchell album," Leary says. When Maron objects, Leary asks about all the cats. "I can't defend the cats," Maron says, defeated. The underlying message that Leary is sending is that maybe Maron, who has never been in a fight in his life, is soft. When Leary finds the source of a smell that's been driving Maron crazy -- a dead possum under the house -- the episode becomes a litmus test of whether Maron will get it out of there himself or hire someone to do it. "You don't know what a crawl space is, do you?" Leary says, disappointedly. "Take it easy, fake fireman," Maron retorts, in a reference to Leary's Rescue Me series.
Where you can see real hope for IFC's Maron is in how it works as a television series, not just a chance to give Maron some long overdue TV exposure. In much the same manner that FX's Louie works because it's fundamentally a TV show first, and one that revolves around Louie C.K.'s real life secondly, the same could prove true with Maron -- and that's essential for its longevity and relevance. The episode with Leary has a typical Maron revelation about how his father left and didn't raise him as he should have -- which is why he doesn't know what to do with a dead possum under the house. That revelation makes the third episode, where Hirsch arrives as his father, have more meaning.
As any number of comedians can tell you, getting a TV show is the easy part (they were handing them out left and right for years). Keeping the show is the hard part. Now that the television landscape is more forgiving for someone who might not appeal to the mainstream, if Maron can follow in the footsteps of Louie, then his wait will have been worth it.