Can “Maron” Step out of the Shadow of “Louie?”

Podcast king, comedian, and reformed dick Marc Maron has a new show on IFC. Appropriately, it’s called “Maron.” I’ve only seen one episode because I’m not nearly important enough to merit screeners. You can preview the full episode on You Tube until the series premiere on May 3rd. But what I saw held promise, like a precocious ten-year-old with good hair. Will it be enough to grant Maron a place in the grumpy-guy comedy pantheon along with “Louie” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm?” I’m not sure. This is a quieter outing than Larry David’s schtick but far less adventurous and surreal than Louie’s untouchable masterpiece.

The pilot, “Internet Troll,” guest-starring Dave Foley, isn’t available online yet, but I actually thought that “Dead Possum” was the pilot because it neatly set up Marc’s world. Pilots are harder to nail than an oiled-up piece of soft rubber, but the debut episode “Dead Possum” left me eager to see what’s coming next.

I wouldn’t have said that five minutes in, though, with vaguely fictionalized Marc hosting Dennis Leary for his podcast – I didn’t think their dialogue was funny, and I thought it was a little stilted. But when Marc’s mom’s friend’s son Kyle (Josh Brener) shows up, the show picks up — and Marc’s initial exchange with Leary is validated as a set-up for a very funny exploration of masculinityLeary thinks Marc is soft, and he ribs Maron for not knowing what a crawlspace is or how to deal with a dead animal (there’s a rotting possum corpse stinking up Marc’s house.) When Kyle shows up and eagerly becomes Marc’s unpaid assistant, Marc gets a chance to playact at.

I think the show could work with Kyle’s character toned down a little – his douche knob got jammed on “high” – but overall the dynamic is appealing. Marc forgives Kyle’s abrasiveness because he gets to act confident and cool in front of someone, and Kyle’s bravado is just a chipped, shitty paint job over clear insecurity and isolation. The only real problem I had with Kyle was how on-the-nose his dialogue is. Lena Dunham writes ridiculously overblown 20-somethings so you believe the stupid shit they say. Kyle was clearly written by someone older imagining that this is the way an inappropriately swaggerific 20-something talks. But it’s a forgivable offense.

Kyle and Marc spend the episode gearing up to remove the possum, and one of the funniest scenes takes place in a Home Depot, where the pair start going apeshit over the plethora of home hardware accessories you can buy. They buy a nail gun. I don’t think it’s like Chekov’s gun – that one will never go off, even if Marc insists, “everything has to be re-nailed!”
maronbbI’m not sure if it was on purpose, but the scenes where the older man and younger man don coveralls and approach the crawlspace recall “Breaking Bad.” I’m almost sure it was on purpose because the images are so similar. But instead of doing something nefarious like cooking meth, this mismatched couple is just doing a gross but commonplace household chore – a task Marc’s lawn guy ends up taking care of anyways.

So far, the only female character is Marc’s bedazzled sweatsuit-clad mother, and it’s not clear whether she’ll be on board as a larger character or her presence will be as limited as it was in the first episode. I’m really hoping there’s a realistically-drawn female character introduced in the next few episodes. Looking at the series regulars, it appears the character of Marc’s girlfriend, played by Nora Zehetner, will be a regular, but she stayed offscreen this episode while the men gallivanted.

Since “Dead Possum” dealt with the idea of being a man, it was filled with various archtypical male characters – the handy man at the hardware store, blue collar workers who mistake Kyle and Marc for their own at a taco stand, Dennis Leary, Marc’s stoic, cheerful Mexican lawn guy – but if it’s a just-dudes situation every episode, it’ll feel a little off-kilter.

I’m guessing the framing device of opening and closing with podcast snippets will stick around, since it’s a pat way to introduce a theme and wrap up an episode.
Besides the podcast at the end, another very significant thing happened that I’m taking as a positive sign for the series: Marc did something mature, visiting his dying ex-father-in-law even though he knew his divorce broke the sick man’s heart. This isn’t something Louie or Larry David would ever do. Louie would try to go to visit and then wind up befriending a child dying of cancer. Larry David would end up insulting the nurses too much to be let in.

The idea that his character is both pathetic and truly evolving into a decent human may set “Maron” in a unique category of comedy. Marc Maron still has anger issues, he’s still held back by regret and despair, but he (as a person and as the character he plays here) seems committed to trying to be better, which is a substantially more optimistic stance than “Louie,” which is too stockpiled with existential angst and dread to really ever be optimistic. And optimism isn’t the mark of a great comedy – as “Louie” proves. But it could be the mark of a great comedy for “Maron” – a show about scrutinizing your failures and foibles and trying to authentically correct them.

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