[This is a review of Maron season 2, episodes 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
For some reason, it's impossible to resist the temptation to compare Louie to Maron even though the two shows are more dissimilar than similar. With Louie, comedian Louis CK seems intent on painting a red arrow on the canvas of the world to point out some of our hypocrisies and our ridiculousness, while in the foreground, CK plays a blunt comic with ethos, striving to find love and raise his girls while often falling victim to awkwardness and his own relatable flaws.
Maron, on the other hand, often seems more insular and fixated on the tics and troubles of this fiercely smart and often cranky guy who is trying to get through his life with the scar tissue of failed marriages, past excesses and social atrocities. Is Maron occasionally relatable and focused on the big picture? Yes, sure, but to take these shows down to the most base assessment, Louie is a field report on the human condition and Maron is a series of diary entries, and that difference is quite fine.
With that said, sometimes the similarities announce themselves more profoundly, and in IFC's season 2 premiere of Maron, we find ourselves in familiar territory for a moment before something quite different emerges for the sophomore series.
To my best recollection, we have twice seen Louie uncomfortably deal with the notion of not being liked by another comic that he has supposedly wronged. Most notably, in the season 2 episode "Oh Louie/Tickets" when Dane Cook appeared, but also last season in the "Ikea/Piano Lesson" episode when Marc Maron showed up to field CK's apology for a feud that he had already repaired numerous times in the past.
Tonight on Maron, we again saw a bit of comic on comic warfare as Marc - trying to play nice and advance his career - agrees to appear on The Talking Dead despite a feud with host Chris Hardwick (who is excellent at playing against his usual upbeat type). Though the scenario is similar, Marc's attempt at reconciliation feels more hollow and centered on Maron himself. Yes, there is an apology, but really, Marc is simply waving the white flag to squelch Hardwick's on-air attack over his lack of Walking Dead knowledge.
Better still, Maron plays on his own Louie appearance when Hardwick lets him know that, despite Marc's assumption that their feud stemmed from an incident in the long ago past, it has actually often been refreshed thanks to Marc's snipes on Twitter. In doing this, Marc paints himself as someone who is either hoping that he can avoid getting caught by Hardwick or someone who is recklessly dismissive and cynical toward others and can't help himself. Either way, Maron clearly isn't invested in his apology, as opposed to CK, who seemed contrite on his show, even though he couldn't remember what he did.
But the tie that binds this bit of the show to the larger relationship drama going on between Marc and his younger girlfriend Jen is the real master stroke for Maron, and the thing that most sets it apart from Louie from about the middle of Maron's first season to where we presently stand.
Despite the revolving door of comic friends, cameos, and other characters, CK is mostly alone on his show, utilizing side characters as if they were furniture that he can take out of storage whenever he needs to stage a metaphorical room. Maron, on the other hand, has started to build up a cast of characters (with Nora Zehetner's Jen and Josh Brener's Kyle) around Marc.
Maron is telling stories that have to account for Jen, and in this instance, it's a story that strikes at the core of who Marc Maron is and what his various projects are all about, because Jen is demanding that he abstain from including the intimate moments of their life (and her existence at all) into his act. Something that Marc is obviously against and openly defiant of throughout. Is he hoping he won't get caught or is he that married to his process and the open relationship that he has with his audience?
This is an interesting question that doesn't so much get answered in this episode, but it's clear that Maron will likely keep exploring the ways that Marc's love life (and his shot at happiness) may get in the way of how he gets through life on a daily basis. It's also a fascinating topic considering not just Maron's world, but the world at large, thanks to the manner in which many of us use the players in our lives as characters in a story that we are constantly updating on social media, and the hurt feelings that can create.
What is private? What is ours to share? These are bigger questions that are broached as a side effect of the conflict between Marc and Jen, and in doing that, Maron draws us into that conversation a bit less bluntly than Louie sometimes does because we actually care about this relationship, as opposed to when CK tries to comment on the world at large with background characters who we aren't invested in.
Again, these shows are different, but in this instance when they ever-so-slightly occupy a similar realm, Maron actually comes out on top and that's a clear sign of growth as the show enters season 2.
Maron airs Thursday nights @10:00pm on IFC.