Like a lot of people, my gateway into Marc Maron's vital WTF podcast was the once-struggling stand-up comic's famous two-part chat with estranged pal Louis C.K., which I initially heard excerpted on another show and immediately tracked it down to its source. It's a remarkable conversation, with both guys mining personal territory that's usually omitted from the public forum, particular in the context of an ostensible celebrity interview.
I've stuck with the show ever since and appreciate Maron's attempts to deepen his conversations with the various people that sit across from him in his garage. Not all of his subjects take the bait (when it's offered, of course -- there are a few instances where Maron seems too in awe or otherwise intimidated to pursue a more rigorous line of questioning), but the ones that do push the discussion to some pretty fascinating places. And even though I can't claim to have listened to every interview (there are some people I'm just not interested in spending 90 minutes with), I do always make a point to hear Maron's preamble, where he fills us in on his personal life or sounds off on whatever's bothering him that day, be it a problem with his cats or some stomach-shattering bit of BBQ he had for dinner. There's something endearing about hearing these snapshots of his day-to-day existence, which he recounts as if he's engaged in a one-sided phone call with a buddy, meaning a lot of heart and little filter.
Given that I enjoy his brand of storytelling so much, one might think that I'd be all in on Maron's new IFC series, Maron, in which he plays a loose version of himself -- a comic who interviews celebrities in his garage for a popular podcast -- and acts out embellished versions of scenarios he's described before. (An upcoming episode, for example, finds him having to retrieve a dead animal from under his house, a saga that dedicated WTF listeners will be very familiar with.) But the show, while potentially promising, doesn't get off to the strongest start. Part of the problem is that -- as Maron himself frequently reminds us -- while he's been a performer for going on almost three decades, he hasn't done much in the way of acting. Playing himself was intended to be a way around this shortcoming, in the same way that Louis C.K. cast himself as Louis C.K. on Louie, the show that Maron, unfairly or not, will be endlessly compared to and found lacking. But Louie has evolved into a series where the situations drive the show rather than the star. Maron is all about Maron and watching him try to replicate his natural state of anxiety on camera is... well, awkward. And not in a way that's awkward-funny.
The half-thought out situations that his onscreen alter ego gets involved in don't help shake the awkwardness away. Tonight's premiere, for example, sends Maron on the hunt for some Internet trolls that have been bad-mouthing him online. (The ringleader of this crew? Garrett from Community. We're waiting for Todd Jacobson's inevitable cameo.) Besides directly ripping off the motivating plot of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, this scenario feels like it was written by a bunch of guys who have read about geeks online, but don't actually know any in real life. The episode is on firmer ground when it's just Marc and Dave Foley (playing himself) hanging out and making small talk, like they would on an episode of WTF. The two other episodes that I've seen also suffer from the same problem of trying to mix up unconvincing situational plots with more free-form bull sessions. Finding the right balance between the two -- or eliminating one element entirely -- will be the main challenge of the series as it goes forward. As it is now, Maron feels somewhat like a scripted version of one of those MTV after-shows: an inessential continuation of the main event.
Watch Maron on IFC tonight and get a sneak peek at the second episode below.
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