The easiest way to send someone in his or her early 20s into a downward spiral is to ask, “So, what are you planning on doing with your life?” Most young people comfort themselves with the idea that their uncertainty will be short-lived, that they’ll have their lives figured out in, oh, say, 10 years. They might even have ideas about how their future success will look: they might have good jobs, stable families or fame. Then again, they may not achieve any of these goals. And if they don’t, their lives might look a bit like Marc Maron’s.
The comedian provides illustration in Maron, premiering 3 May on IFC. A scripted comedy series, it presents Maron’s day-to-day life after reaching a small amount of career success from his podcast WTF with Marc Maron. The not-quite-breakout has left Maron feeling stuck between fame and obscurity. He’s got enough celebrity to be assaulted by trolls on Twitter, but he’s hardly wealthy or well known, only recognized by a lonely, older, slightly pathetic man he meets at a pet store. The show presents 49-year-old Maron’s lack of impact as a kind of perpetual adolescence: he’s still dealing with problems familiar from high school (and high school movies): he’s bullied and a bully, he wonders about his masculinity, he fights with his parents, he can’t find a job.
Unfortunately, the series feels like a rehashed, less funny version of Louie. Maron and Louis C.K. share a cynical, self-deprecating sense of humor and the styles of both shows are strikingly similar: scenes of Maron recording his podcast are intercut throughout the episode in the same way C.K.’s standup routine appears in his series. However, while Louie points out the similarities between banal and outrageous situations, Maron is just banal.
This is especially disappointing, given that IFC has been home to inventive or even provocative comedy series, from Portlandia to The Whitest Kids U’Know. Maron opts instead for boring jokes to supplement boring plot lines. In the first episode, “Internet Troll,” Maron decides to uncover a tormentor by stalking every social networking website that “@Dragonmaster” owns, until he eventually locates the bully at a local Dungeons & Dragons get-together. Maron promptly drives over to confront his nemesis, which results in a three-minute exchange of lackluster insults between the comedian and the D&D players: “You suck!” “What is this, a troll cave?” “What, am I stuck inside the Internet right now?” To call this encounter an anticlimax suggests it concludes a plot that might have come to a climax. More accurately, the bit seems vaguely improvisational, maybe just lazy, as if the scriptwriters forgot they were writing for an audience.
This apparent disinterest isn’t consistent, in that some scenes seem designed to offend someone. The second episode reveals the background of Maron’s assistant Kyle (Josh Brener), a background that in another context would be outright terrible, even tragic. Here Kyle reveals that he was molested as a child, during his effort to calm his boss, currently concerned that he isn’t “manly” enough to crawl under his home to retrieve a dead animal. As Maron frets, Kyle interrupts, shouting, “I was molested at sleep away camp!” Following Maron’s stunned silence, Kyle apologizes (!), saying he was just caught up in his mentor’s energy and that this surprising secret is probably better suited for a “sit-down” conversation. When the two men do finally sit down, Maron revises Kyle’s story, suggesting that it sounds like young children experimenting, something that’s “only natural.” Kyle is relieved, but then asks, “What about the camp counselor watching?” It’s an incredibly distasteful joke about an extremely serious subject, a joke you might expect out of a Scary Movie installment.
Less disturbing, if more predictable, jokes emerge from Maron’s Louie-like self-deprecation (“How’s your self-esteem?” “It’s okay, I mean, I hate myself”) and his interactions with his father (Judd Hirsch). The third episode focuses on the latter, with Marc’s dad (his only name here) continues to bother Maron much as he might have 25 years ago. Marc’s dad comes to visit, promising that his new scheme, selling vitamins on a black market, will make them both wealthy. The visit revives old tensions between Maron and his longtime absent father, not so subtly manifested as Maron Senior parks his giant RV in front of his son’s house, honking the horn whenever he wants to communicate. Needless to say, the situation devolves from here. Maron tells his dad to go to hell, Dad replies, “You go to hell!”, and Maron slings back, “I’m already there!”
No kidding. For all its shortcomings, Maron does offer Marc Maron, who remains charmingly offbeat despite his material, and of course Hirsch, always worthy. How the show means to fit on IFC, a channel that famously targets viewers younger than both players, is not so clear.