There’s a great scene early in Maron’s debut season where comedian and podcaster Marc (Marc Maron) and his newly hired assistant, Kyle (Josh Brener), attempt to remove a fetid dead possum from the crawl space beneath Marc’s house. Both men are clearly daunted by the task, but they psyche themselves up with bravado and a comical amount of unnecessary gear from the local hardware store. When it comes time to actually creep into the darkness, the fear is just too much for Marc. In a temper tantrum of insecurity raging against itself, he curses his inability to feel like a capable handyman, opening up an emotional space that triggers Kyle into unexpectedly blurting out a rather personal secret about himself. The comedic momentum peaks with one deft turn in Marc’s tone of voice as he asks empathetically, “Do you want to talk about it, buddy?” It’s a deeply affecting moment that, for the incongruity of grown men clumsily confronting their vulnerabilities, also conveys a resonant sense of humor.
Such is the power of Maron’s comedy: There’s almost no topic too awkward, no emotion too unwieldy, or piece of personal baggage too uncomfortable that it can’t be disarmed by a direct application of humor. Maron is a fictionalized version of Maron’s real day-to-day existence and personal struggles as a veteran, if relatively unknown, stand-up comic and podcast frontiersman living in Los Angeles. When Marc isn’t thrashing out his frustrations in the company of friends, professional peers, and family, he takes to his garage recording studio to think out loud about heady issues such as heartache, divorce, and middle-aged masculinity for his podcast listeners. These are compelling moments because, for Marc, there’s no better way to disarm personal demons or tear down shibboleths than by connecting with others with honesty and humor.
Followers of Maron’s successful cult podcast, WTF (a series of in-depth interviews of comedians and artists of varying stripes), will be familiar with much of the material here. In a world that makes little sense, Marc is a lone voice of reason: cranky, intelligent, hip, but with a gifted capacity for empathy. Maron’s real-life stand-up act works in much the same way. And therein lies Maron’s risk: How do you transpose a distinct comedic sensibility and point of view into entertaining narratives for a wider audience without losing your creative bearings? To Maron’s credit, the series accomplishes this task to an admirable degree. Formally, it doesn’t take many chances, but it doesn’t really need to. A traditional three-act structure seems suited for the kind of character study at work here.
Which is to say, the show’s most compelling aspect is the singular personality it brings not only to the familiar model of the TV comedy based on a comic’s life, but to the broader field of TV comedy in general. Maron’s character’s expansive disposition pushes against the effects of caricature that make some other comedies seem cynical or brain dead. Against the grain of these other shows, Maron endears itself with an earthiness and an aesthetic of aloofness, expressed by a gritty rock-guitar soundtrack, Marc’s taste for rugged fashion, and the ruminative atmosphere of the podcast-recording scenes set in Marc’s garage. Though its narrative structure and atmosphere take a markedly different tack, Maron presents itself as a fair complement to Louie in that both shows concern themselves with refreshingly substantive masculine types.
Perhaps the handiest metaphor for Maron’s relationship with his audience is the group of stray cats he often talks about and which make their due appearance in the series. Moody, sensitive, misunderstood, they represent the type of people who presumably make up Maron’s core fan base. With Maron, however, that could change. The opening scene of the season betrays an anxious impulse to grow beyond cult status. At an animal clinic, Marc asks the veterinarian examining one of his cats, “I’ve been on Conan O’Brien like 47 times, and you don’t know who I am, right?” “Is it important that people know who you are?” she responds. To the extent that Maron successfully mines idiosyncrasy for rich comedy, then, yes.