“Maron,” comedian and podcaster Marc Maron’s new series, has the tag line “He’s got issues. Sharing isn’t one of them,” which aptly foregrounds the extent to which “Maron” is a therapy session. The show, a scripted comedy that starts tonight on IFC, stars Maron as himself, but in slightly reduced circumstances. Instead of a comedian perpetually on the verge who has parleyed his podcast — WTF, a long series of great, deep interviews with other comedians — into a TV show on IFC, he is a struggling comedian making a podcast out of his garage that may, but has not yet, led to great things. Otherwise, the two Marcs — their complexes, neuroses, temper, inferiority complexes, addictions, cats, ex-wives and so on — are the same.
“Maron” owes a huge debt to both Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Louis C.K.’s “Louie,” though it is not as good as either. Like “Louie,” “Maron” is loosely concerned with straight laughs and strives for a sort of shaggy, subjective, emotional point of view. Instead of intercutting bits of stand-up into the show, “Maron” uses bits from the podcast, both the monologue and the interviews. Unlike Louie’s stand-up, these segments end up functioning almost explicitly as narration, Maron laying out the themes that will be explored and then learning a lesson from that exploration. (“Grey’s Anatomy” also outlines the theme of every episode in a kind of generalized language, it just does so in a voice-over, not with a shot of Meredith Grey talking into her mic.) Any show where people learn is automatically more touchy-feely than “Curb,” but Maron’s personality and persona, his aggression, inappropriateness, willingness to flout social convention, are all David and stand in high contrast to Louie’s hang-dog gestalt. Like “Curb,” “Maron” is about a force-of-personality unleashed on the world, rather than “Louie’s” more observational style.
Maron is not, as he says, shy about sharing. He subscribes to the school of thought that believes it’s always better to insult yourself before anyone else can. The episode begins with him hitting on an uninterested vet by saying, “I’ve been on Conan like 46 times, but you don’t know who I am.” “Is it important that people know who you are?” she asks and he gives a little look, a little shake of his head that conveys how that question is simultaneously too embarrassing and too obvious to answer with a resounding “YES.” Soon after, Marc runs into his ex-wife. He has just told us how much he dreads this interaction, because he still cares, but instead of behaving, he blows up. “I had her when she was perfect!” he yells at her new husband, almost getting in a fistfight. He then proceeds to chase down “Dragonmaster,” a 20-something D&D obsessive who keeps telling Maron he’s not funny on Twitter. This super nerd ruins Maron’s day, until a divorced guy with too many cats tells him he loves the show. No one is going to call Marc Maron insecure sooner or louder than Marc Maron.
The really unique part of Maron’s persona, one that anyone who has ever listened to the podcast knows, is that he’s not just angry and aggressive and sometimes badly behaved, it’s that he is actively searching, actively trying to be a better person. Maron is aggressively — both in manner and spirit – engaged in a project of recovery, self-betterment, self-love. He is a sort of cursing, real-talking Oprah — or just a kind of updated Howard Beale — and there is an odd “Full House”-moment sentimentality to “Maron.” The first episode ends with him explaining you have to call yourself out when you’re being a dick, or you’ll never stop being a dick. The second episode, which explores Marc’s insecurities about being a “man” after Denis Leary observes he’s a pussy, ends with him saying, “There’s a girl inside every man. Mine is kind of a bitch.”
But Maron’s self-help tendencies have already found their best format: Maron’s podcast, where Maron’s own honest self-explorations encourage everyone who joins him in his garage to do the same, while also curtailing Maron’s endless self-infatuation. “Maron” is a little bit like the podcast without the guests, which is too much Maron. The best aspects of the show are the moments directly from the podcast, both the monologues and the joking around and interviewing other comedians, like Leary, Dave Foley and Jeff Garlin, who all appear in the early episodes. Anyone who listens to WTF will bring so much extra knowledge about Marc Maron to bear on “Maron,” including a keen awareness of his sense that he missed out on a certain kind of fame by inches. This makes the fact that “Maron” is also a near miss almost poignant — but at least it will make great fodder for a future podcast.