Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron is clearly not a trained screen actor, as he’s palpably aware of the camera and not entirely able to give himself over to it. Maron has often benefitted from this awkwardness, contrasting the self-conscious TV incarnation of the star with the fluid personality that’s on display in his podcast, WTF. The gulf of confidence that exists between the two mediums’ versions of one person convincingly establishes Maron as an everyman beset by loony parents, girlfriends, and fellow comedians while attempting to take his career as an entertainer to the next level. His lack of polish as an actor is allowed to symbolize the exposure he feels in the world when he’s not ensconced in the professional cocoon of his makeshift recording studio/garage. This tension informs the sitcom plots with verisimilitude and, at the show’s best, even pathos, such as in the great second-season episode in which Maron inadvertently befriends the unstable husband of a realtor he slept with.
Maron came into its own in the back half of season two, distinguishing itself from other similarly conceived “life of a comic” shows like Seinfeld and, most obviously, Louie. The former was a polished farce that contrasted the smoothness of its craftsmanship with its prickly, casually worn misanthropy, while the latter is a despairing comic art film that’s barely clad in TV clothing, an address of How We Live. In its first two seasons, Maron utilized its Los Angeles setting to position itself as a comparatively lower-key riff on disappointment and loss, and at its best the series suggests a looser, absurdist interpretation of Raymond Carver’s stories.
Sadly, that’s not the case in the show’s third season. The sitcom hijinks play as just that, and the bits are obvious and detached from Maron’s specifically humbled, nearly redeemed loser persona, as these stories could appear in any comedy about a disgruntled white dude wandering through life sleeping with as many women as possible. Something has curdled a bit here: The guest performers, rather than Maron himself, have become the butts of the jokes, imbuing the series with a whiff of pomposity. The season premiere finds the comic searching for an agent, which leads him to a has-been played very broadly by Alex Rocco in a procession of stale sick-old-man jokes. A cameo by Elliott Gould provides a necessary grace note, with the actor’s elegantly thrown-away likening of Maron’s studio to a tool shed, but it’s not enough to distract from the flimsiness of the premise and its execution. The subsequent episode pivots on that classic straight-male fantasy of being recruited as a lover by lesbian friends (for the purpose of conceiving a child). The coupling itself is amusingly stiff and un-erotic, but the story has no real pay-off; it drifts off into vapor, though a final scene in a park recalls the bittersweet poignancy of last season.
Maron tends to find itself as each season evolves though, and its openers have traditionally been awkward and comically unfulfilled, serving as audition sketches for something to be filled in later. There’s a promising development between the protagonist and his assistant, Kyle (Josh Brener), for instance, who’s dating an older woman who the former’s clearly attracted to, which could serve to shake up the star’s engaging insecurities and vulnerabilities once again. Taken on their own, however, the new episodes are slight to the point of near nonexistence.