Maron debuts tonight on IFC at 10 p.m. Eastern.
It’s never been a better time to be Marc Maron. His career and personal life languishing, he retreated to his garage in 2009 and started a podcast. It soon became essential listening, raised his profile, and re-energized his career. May of 2013 seems like the culmination of Maron’s resurgence, as he releases a book, Attempting Normal (see our review on Monday) and, tonight, debuts a heavily autobiographical TV series on IFC, Maron. Life couldn’t be better, and that terrifies a neurotic like Maron.
As he says in the first episode of Maron, “Things are going pretty well for me right now, but that’s a problem because when things are going well, that means there’s a voice in my head going, ‘You’re going to screw it up! You’re going to screw it up, Marc!’ Just over and over again. I just wish that voice were louder than the voice screaming ‘LET’S SCREW IT UP!’”
The opening scene of “Internet Troll” is close on Maron’s face as he talks to someone off-camera. The scene stitches together Maron talking about a few different things—well, really only about himself—and the succession of cuts gives the impression of a one-sided conversation, of the self-centered Maron yammering on without giving another person the chance to speak. In that moment, it feels very much like Marc Maron talking, not “Marc Maron,” his thinly fictionalized television sibling. Although Maron doesn’t speak directly to the camera, it’s a direct allusion to the famous opening of Annie Hall. Woody Allen and Marc Maron are peas in a neurotic pod, and Allen talking about turning 40 and life being miserable/too short runs parallel to Maron discussing his career and neuroses.
The opening of Annie Hall had the same distinction: Was it Woody Allen speaking, or his character? Woody Allen becomes Alvy Singer when he starts talking about his breakup with Annie, and Maron becomes “Maron” when the camera cuts to the veterinarian (The L Word’s Erin Daniels) examining his cat, Boomer. The chronic over-sharer has been unloading all of this on someone he doesn’t even know. “Internet Troll” ends on a similar note, as Maron discusses cat food with some guy in a store.
What occurs between those two scenes is a pretty pure distillation of Marc Maron: obsessed with what people think of him (the entire first episode revolves around his confronting an Internet troll), bitter (he doesn’t handle running into his ex-wife well), and doing some of his best work. (As he says in the opening scene, “A few years ago, I was planning on killing myself in my garage, and now I’m doing the best thing that I’ve ever done in my life in that same garage.”)
Or at least it’s a good representation of Maron’s life a few years ago, before he met his current girlfriend, Jessica, who’s 20 years his junior. (Fans of Maron’s comedy and WTF know all about their relationship.) Maron’s single in the first episode, but he will soon have a much younger girlfriend, Jen, played by Nora Zehetner (of Heroes and Grey’s Anatomy fame).
Maron doesn’t travel far out of his life for his TV show, probably because it doesn’t seem like he can be anybody else. In his small filmography, he’s basically played other versions of himself, like his “Marc Mulheren” character in Sleepwalk With Me or “Angry Promoter” in Almost Famous. In the lead as himself, though, Maron struggles at times. He’s stiff in a few scenes, his line readings and expression telegraphing “I am acting” to a distracting degree.
He’s not alone. Dave Foley has legitimate acting chops, as he proved in NewsRadio, but he’s also a little flat in a couple scenes. “I thought today was last week,” he says unconvincingly when Maron finds him at his house, a week late for an interview. Later, he waits in the car as Maron goes into a comic-book store to confront his tormentor, he has a similarly flat exchange with Maron that feels like, “I will say my line.” “Then I will respond.” “And I will say something else.”
Thankfully, it’s not that way the entire time. Maron’s looser in other scenes, like the opening one or during a couple of his exchanges with the nerd cabal that mocks him. (“Do you need to be liked by everyone?” “No.” [Beat.] “Well, maybe.”) Maron will presumably find his rhythm as the episodes progress—it takes time, even if you’re playing yourself.
More problematic, though, is the storyline of “Internet Troll,” which relies on some groan-worthy stereotypes—Internet commenters are D&D-playing über-nerds!—as a setup, but saves itself by turning the joke around on Maron. His Twitter hater is just as dismissive in person, but the nerds are huge Dave Foley fans. Chiding Maron for interrupting Foley, one of them says, “Hey, let the funny man talk!”
“Internet Troll” sets itself up as wish fulfillment for famous people, then loses more audience empathy by making Maron’s detractors caricatures. But it still scores some very funny moments along the way, and nicely subverts its own condescension in the end. Maron, the episode’s only credited writer, is smart enough to see through his own bullshit, which bodes well for the nine episodes that follow.
- The first two episodes of Maron are streaming at ifc.com.
- “Internet Troll” has some fun references for Maron fans: His confrontation with his ex-wife borrows a line from a bit on his album, This Has To Be Funny (“Pregnant? So that’s your move?”); Dave Foley’s WTF episode went deep on his miserable personal life, so the sad-sack version of himself he plays here isn’t far removed from his real life; Maron has had a tricky relationship with Chris Hardwick over the years, so this line about the nerd shit-talking him online was awesomely pointed: “He blogs about anime, British comedy, the Nerdist…”
- Maron’s über-nerd tormentor is the unmistakable Erik Charles Nielsen, a.k.a. Garrett Lambert from Community.
- “Internet Troll” was directed by Luke Matheny, who won an Oscar in 2011 for his short film “God Of Love.”
- Here’s some trivia that’s catnip to lovers of punk from the ’90s like myself: The guys who scored Maron and did the music for the title—Anthony Roman and Anthony Rizzo—were in the band Garden Variety, who had a brief run on Gern Blandsten Records way back in the day. “Pretty Mouth” still slays.
- “It’s not just about me, though, man. I’m doing this for all those sexually confused college kids who are jumping off bridges because they were bullied. This is a crusade for decency.”
- “What is this, a troll cave? What am I, inside the Internet right now?”
- Nerd to Maron: “Yeah, go. Your cat shit in its cage. You should write a one-man show about that!” Ha!
- Dave Foley to his eager audience: “Anyone here know the Scott Thompson part? Oh, we’ll do it in the round, I guess.”