I used to love IFC. LOVE it. In college, the television was tuned to it probably about 60% of the time. This was back before they had commercials and their lone original series were Greg the Bunny and the criminally overlooked The Festival. Seriously, if you can find episodes of The Festival online somewhere, give them a watch. Nowadays, it seems like they don’t bother to show movies, let alone movies I can rightfully recognize as independent (Lethal Weapon? Are you kidding me?). While I give credit to the network for trying to branch out into territory all cable channels seem to be headed, I sort of miss the days I could turn on IFC and watch some really bad Pulp Fiction knock-off.
It seems like IFC is still trying to find its flagship original program; at least, one with the popularity of a show that you might find on FX or Comedy Central. I’ve seen my fair share of episodes of Portlandia and I’m aware of shows like The Whitest Kids U Know and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, but no one’s ever asked me if I’ve seen the new episode of any of these programs. Perhaps, with Marc Maron’s new show, aptly titled Maron, they finally can get the audience that their competitors manage to bring in each week.
It’s easy to make the comparison to the FX series Louie, starring the biggest comic in the world as of this writing, Louis CK. For one, both shows include bookends of the respective comedians performing, whether it be Louie on stage or Maron behind a microphone for a podcast. It’s reminiscent of the standup scenes from the earliest seasons of Seinfeld, if you want to make another comparison. Louie and Maron are assuredly the offspring of a show like Seinfeld, where standard sitcom plots are thrown away in favor of thinly-veiled standup routines. But while Louie and Maron are cut from the same cloth, they do differ more than just location. How they act and react to the world around them is starkly different.
If you had to compare both shows and their protagonists to dogs, CK would be more of a bulldog to Maron’s shivering terrier. Louie, at times, borders on the nihilistic. He walks through life like a truly jaded New Yorker; shitty things happen to him and he does shitty things, but rarely do his expressions ever change. It’s the personification of Vonnegut’s “So it goes” mentality, where even the truly horrible raises little reaction. From visiting a terribly racist aunt to witnessing the death of a homeless person, the show has a matter-of-factness that is altogether bleak, darkly humorous, and real.
From the two episodes of Maron I have seen, this show lives on the opposite end of the spectrum. Marc Maron is tightly-wound, turning relatively regular moments in his life into travesties of epic proportions. In the pilot episode, Marc gets slammed by a Twitter troll, then spends the rest of the episode tracking him down just to confront him. He finds him in the back room of a comic book store, playing some variation of Dungeons & Dragons or Magic: The Gathering or some other card game. On a normal sitcom, the nerdy troll would have been laughed at, mocked for probably being a virgin and Marc would exit the store victorious. But in Maron, Marc still looks like the fool, wasting time to find an Internet troll and confront him, only to basically have no plan once he gets there. Even in the second episode, Maron turns the simple task of removing a dead animal from his crawlspace into a weekend-long excursion to hardware stores and bitchfests about how his father failed him. The show has an on-edge/bipolar feel to it, where it seems that Marc is one inconvenience short of having a complete nervous breakdown.
Despite the differences, I enjoy both shows and I see a lot of promise in Maron. It’s good to see a journeyman comedian such as Marc succeed this late in his career. I remember watching him pop up on Late Night with Conan O’Brien back before the whole Tonight Show debacle and thought he was pretty funny, even if, at that point in my life, I couldn’t really relate to it. Fans of the WTF Podcast would no doubt enjoy extra Marc Maron in their lives and hopefully, IFC has found a winner in this one.