At its best, IFC’s Maron successfully places the audience within comedian Marc Maron’s headspace, a mind fueled by petty insecurities, a river of rage, and never-ending frustration with both himself and the world. At its worst, it simply treats Marc Maron as a character to place in “wacky” situations. After a hit-or-miss first season that did too much of that, Maron found its voice in the middle of season two when it committed to telling low-key stories about loss, self-sabotage, and the uneasy road of maturation through the lens of Maron’s unique perspective. It didn’t rely on cheap humor or saccharine moments to goose the stories, but allowed both comedy and drama to flow organically from a sincere, open-minded place.
In its third season, Maron has settled into a comfortable narrative and stylistic groove, allowing for more specific, compassionate stories about constantly feeling out of step with your surroundings. In one episode, a friendly lesbian couple (A.V. Club columnist Cameron Esposito and Anna Konkle) asks Maron to be a sperm donor to help them start a family, which leads to a series of awkward sexual encounters between Maron and the couple after they decide to conceive naturally. While this seems like superficial sitcom fodder on the surface, the story culminates in touching scenes about miscommunication within relationships and normal fears about starting over alone. Maron’s third season confirms that its success often lies in taking broad premises and integrating genuine emotion within them, empathizing with human vulnerability and personal failures.
Other times Maron’s success lies in telling niche stories related to faults in its main character’s personality. In a stellar episode, Maron deals with his anger when it starts negatively affecting his professional and personal life. But it’s not the premise of the episode that’s interesting; it’s the execution of it. It depicts a normal day when one minor thing not going right—in this case, making coffee, pouring it into a thermos, and then forgetting it when you leave home—creates a domino effect of nothing going right. As a result, Maron’s compounded frustration at just about everything and everyone is not solely played for laughs but illustrates a genuine difficulty with living in a world unwilling to conform to your wants and desires. Is that selfish and arrogant? Sure, a little bit, but whatever the reasons, feeling frustrated at the world is entirely understandable.
Maron has also doubled down on effectively funny recurring characters in the series’ world. Josh Brener makes a few return appearances as Marc’s somewhat-pitiful assistant Kyle, who’s eager to please but unable to do so, and Dave Anthony (playing himself) livens every scene he’s in as Marc’s hilarious deadpan friend. These characters work because their interactions with Marc are rooted in the specifics of their personalities: Kyle’s desperate sycophancy and Dave’s general apathy both drive Marc crazy in amusing ways. This season also has a fair number of funny guest stars who brush up against Marc along the way, including Elliott Gould (also playing himself), who pushes Marc into working with a dying agent.
There’s still a little roughness around the edges of the series. Maron’s always had trouble with ending episodes, and they often feel too abrupt or pat (especially in the first episode of the season). Sometimes the characterizations of one-off guests can be two-dimensional and uninteresting: the season’s debut episode features Constance Zimmer as Marc’s new girlfriend, who resembles a scolding mother. Nevertheless, Maron operates on its own frequency and works within its own rhythms. Its only goal is to tell honest, semi-autobiographical stories about a frustrated man who’s gone to hell and back but still aims to turn over a new leaf. Maron is about the difficulties of waking up every morning and trying to be a good person, even when the entire world is screaming at you to succumb to your worst self.