Marc Maron has a whole series of bits in his act right now about visiting Hawaii with his girlfriend, Jessica. At one point, they take a catamaran ride with a group of people, which Maron describes as a terrifying ordeal. On catamarans, it’s not like passengers are sitting on a deck comfortably; they’re basically strapped down and propped up on some part of the boat and hold on for dear life—at least that’s the way Maron describes it.
On the trip were a couple of ripped alpha-male types who don’t seem uncomfortable at all. While panic seized Maron’s mind, these guys chatted amiably—and, in Maron’s mind, judged him for being a pussy, even as he tried to play it cool.
A dearth of manliness is a favorite topic of male comedians, many of whom are sensitive guys whose treatment by an insensitive world provides a wealth of material. Maron’s manliness lies somewhere on the spectrum between doormat and alpha male, and “Dead Possum” finds him struggling with where he lies on that spectrum. As he tells guest (and Maron executive producer) Denis Leary during a podcast interview in “Dead Possum,” “I’m not a pussy. Maybe I’m right on the pussy cusp.”
Leary, a raging alpha male from way back, thinks Maron’s being overly generous. “You let me call you a pussy twice to your face.” On his way out of the garage he tells Maron he’s worried about him, judging by all the self-help books—and possibly a Joni Mitchell album—in the garage, not to mention all the cats. “There’s no Joni Mitchell albums in there!” Maron says, before adding, “I can’t defend the cats.”
Leary’s just like those dudes Maron saw on the catamaran, so he’s the kind of guy whose respect Maron desperately wants. If he can’t be his equal or in the club, Maron at least wants to be considered a guy who can handle shit—like a dead possum in his crawlspace. Or at least a guy who knows what a crawlspace is.
Turns out Maron’s the kind of guy who will just ride out the overpowering odor of a dead animal in his crawlspace, because a) he doesn’t realize it’s a dead animal, and b) he doesn’t know he had a crawlspace. “Look, folks, I’m not an alpha male,” Maron says in a great scene in the garage at the end of the episode. “I act like one sometimes, but I know I’m not a real one. The way I know that is if I ever lock eyes with a real alpha male, they know. They’re like, ‘Say hi to the little girl in there.’”
“Dead Possum” affords Maron a chance to make up for the Leary exchange via an impressionable wannabe named Kyle (Josh Brener), the grandson of a friend of Maron’s mother (the always-welcome Sally Kellerman). As a favor to his mom, Maron agrees to talk to the kid about showbiz, and it’s easy to wonder if the comedian sees a little bit of himself when the kid talks a big game at first. (He’s working on a movie idea for Will Ferrell, Malcolm McDowell, and “McLovin from Superbad” that takes place “underwater, but in the future.”) Maron quickly cuts through his bullshit, and in a matter of moments, Kyle’s groveling to be Maron’s unpaid assistant.
Like the bullied kid who bullies others even weaker than he is, Maron’s soon scoffing at Kyle’s crawlspace ignorance and putting on a good show of machismo. This being Maron/Maron, it takes little time for it to be deflated. When Kyle and Maron head to the hardware store for supplies, it becomes obvious they’re peers in the manliness department. Maron tries his best to hide it, but Kyle punctures the display by asking for help. “We were thinking a dead-animal-grabber,” he tells the bear-ish sales associate (madTV/Tom Goes To The Mayor alum Craig Anton, who viewers may recognize from last week’s spectacular Mad Men).
Probably my favorite scene of this episode is Maron and Kyle in the hardware store, specifically when Kyle enthusiastically shows Maron the “bug-zapper racquet” “No way!” Maron says. “This place is awesome!” Kyle adds. The two of them have more or less the same amount of experience with home projects, and it was delightful watching them together.
The hardware store also offers a nice pivot point for the episode when Maron sees a hummingbird feeder and immediately thinks of his gravely ill ex-father-in-law. Maron’s mom told him about the man’s sickness at the top of the episode, and it upsets him, because he has a lot of affection for the old man (and a healthy amount of guilt, of course, for what happened between him and the guy’s daughter).
For an episode devoted to the superficial signifiers of masculinity—nail guns! Home projects! Fights!—“Dead Possum” slyly showed the benefits of being a sensitive guy. Seeing the hummingbird feeder makes Maron realize that when he treated his ex-wife poorly, he treated his father-in-law poorly by extension. That sets up a nice, wordless scene toward the end of the episode where Maron goes to the hospital to sit with his former father-in-law. He may not be an alpha male, but he’ll sit with an unconscious old man and hold his hand. That sensitivity that drives utter terror on a catamaran also makes him a pretty humane guy.
- Although I found Maron’s capital-A Acting in the premiere distracting, he seems a lot more natural in this one.
- After the scene in the hospital, the one installing the hummingbird feeder felt unnecessary. It was probably a way to show Maron setting up the feeder in tribute to his father-in-law, but that moment of Maron looking down while holding the old guy’s hand was really sweet. For more of Maron’s thoughts on hummingbirds and hummingbird feeders, see Chapter 15 in Attempting Normal, “Hummingbirds And The Killer Of Mice.”
- Josh Brener’s IMDB page only shows him in two Maron episodes, but the site is pretty incomplete when it comes to this show. Here’s hoping he’s around more than that.
- I’ve really liked some of the shots in these first couple episodes. Joe Kessler is Maron’s DP, and though he has a ton of comedy experience (Reno 911!, Little Britain USA), he was also the DP in Sam Jones’ incredible Wilco documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. That film had some great photography.
- “What are you, some kind of pussy?”
“You wanna take it outside? You gonna talk to me like that in my garage?”
“I’d love to go outside with you.”
“All right, maybe I overstepped.”
- “Like Apatow?”
“Yeah, before he was shitty.”
I’m sort of working on an FOC about how Apatow may be better suited to TV than film, after the one-two punch of Funny People and This Is 40. I liked Funny People more the second time around, but This Is 40 remained very much a slog on its second viewing.
- There were some great exchanges between Maron and Kyle, like Maron explaining his cheat day (“I don’t know what any of that means.” “Oh, you will.”) and Kyle talking about his camp experience. The latter felt a little shticky (“What about the counselor that was watching us?”), but it had some nice moments too.
- I’ll be reviewing the rest of the season, so expect reviews to post right after the show airs, presuming we can get screeners.