IFC is yet another network that is trying to get a slice of the original programming pie. While IFC has traditionally been known as a destination for independent films, they have branched out in recent years with series like The Onion News Network, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret and Portlandia. It has also become the home for the new chapters of R. Kelly’s epic musical sh*tshow, Trapped in the Closet (and if you aren’t watching this ridiculous, you are missing out. I have never seen something so terrible yet so fantastic). Their newest show, Maron, debuts Friday at 10 pm and while I think it has a few things to iron out, I enjoyed what I have seen so far.
The titular Maron is Marc Maron, a stand-up comedian and host of the wildly successful podcast WTF. Maron has been a working comedian for many years, but never quite reached the level of success as many of the comics that he came up with – a fact that he can occasionally be a bit resentful of. Frustrated with the direction of his career, he launched a podcast where he sits down one and one with other comedians (often in the studio he has in his garage) and talks to them about their life and their craft. What makes WTF outstanding is that Maron turns out to be a great interviewer and because of the shared DNA he has with most comedians, he is able to get them to speak much more honestly and openly than you would expect. Maron is very open about his life, his struggles with drugs and his numerous neuroses, which helps make the guests more at east. He definitely tends toward oversharing. The result is a riveting conversation, especially if you are a fan of comedy like I am. He gets outstanding guests (Mel Brooks, Dick Van Dyke, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Judd Apatow) and the scope of the podcast has evolved to include comedic actors, musicians and fans of comedy (Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Jack White, Kevin Smith and Dave Grohl have all done interviews). By the end of the conversation, you really feel like you know the person he was talking to and almost always learn something new about them – even if you have been a fan for years. The two part Louis C.K. interview, where he and Maron hash out the deterioration of their friendship, is almost required listening. It’s uncomfortable, awkward and chillingly honest. WTF is one of my favorite podcasts and I look forward to long drives in the car so I can catch up on episodes.
The show Maron is a slightly fictionalized version of Marc Maron’s life, as it focuses on his life as a struggling comedian who launches a podcast. Both versions of Maron are twice divorced, have a difficult relationship with their parents (especially their father) and struggle with insecurity and anger issues. Much like Seinfeld, Maron is a comedian basically playing himself but surrounded by fun supporting characters and put into funny situations. The stakes in Maron are small and the humor delves more from situations and reactions than jokes and punch lines. This isn’t necessarily a laugh out loud show, but it is very funny and amusing. The episode that I previewed deals with a dead animal under Marc’s house and his need to prove his manhood by dealing with the situation himself, yet he being totally ill equipped to do so. It’s a small thing, but Maron milks a lot of humor out of it with his willingness to be self-deprecating and mine his own shortcomings for comedy. The show definitely speaks with Maron’s voice; they managed to capture his comedic style and personality well. The podcast component of the show allows a venue for a rotating cast of guest stars, including Denis Leary, Dave Foley and Jeff Garlin.
The show will draw comparisons to Louie, as both shows have a twinge of melancholy and the comedians share the same wry humor, but I don’t think that Maron aims to hit the creative and emotional range that his frienemy Louis CK is capable of. Maron may have some of the same spirit as Louie, but it is telling much smaller and more contained stories. Maron is not quite as sitcommy as Seinfeld and not as artistic as Louis; it occupies the space in-between these shows and does a solid job in the process.
Maron is not a trained actor and that shows in parts of the show. He’s not awful, but there is room for improvement; he’s not 100% comfortable in front of the camera and his performance can seem a little mannered. I don’t think this is something that will be a problem long term – the more that he does the show, the better he will become. Look at the early episodes of Seinfeld and Jerry is obviously still learning how to be in front of a camera. These guys are more comfortable in front of a microphone or a crowd, so there is a learning curve for Maron. Unlike Seinfeld, he has some acting under his belt (though mostly bit parts), so I think he will ultimately be fine once he gets used to being the lead.
Some other thoughts:
- Maron also has a book out (Attempting Normal), so this could really be the year of Marc Maron – a fact that I bet he finds both exhilarating and terrifying.
- I recently saw Maron do his stand-up show live and I really enjoyed it. He tells stories and makes observations rather than tells jokes, a fact someone in the audience didn’t appreciate (though if you know anything about Maron and his style, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise). Maron handled it well, but seriously Albany – stop making the rest of us look stupid. Hecklers never win and just mess up the flow of the show.
- He wasn’t in the episode that I saw, but Judd Hirsh plays Maron’s dad on the show.
- If you are interested in checking out the WTF podcast, Splitsider has compiled a list of the 15 most defining episodes.
I definitely saw promise in Maron and will be tuning in to watch the show. If you are at all familiar with Maron and his humor, you will definitely enjoy the show as I think it does a very nice job of capturing who he is, even in fictionalized form. I think as the show evolves and Marc becomes more comfortable, it will only improve. Unlike other new shows, however, I don’t think we have to wait for Maron to find its voice. This is a show with a clear point of view – a wry and neurotic point of view, but also a funny one. I look forward to seeing where the show takes me.
Maron debuts Friday at 10 pm on IFC.