Why is Marc Maron the way he is?
After a season and a half on IFC, Maron has taken us through many days in the life of the neurotic comic and podcast host. We’ve watched him enter and ruin relationships, seek (and find… and lose) friendships, and unhesitatingly examine his own neuroses. But what implanted them so deep into his ragged core in the first place?
“Marc’s Family” brings his four-person family unit together under one roof, seeking to pull up the roots and peel back the layers of affect that make Maron Maron. It’s no easy task, and, unfortunately, there’s simply too much noise to really hear anything we hadn’t already been told or didn’t already know.
It’s an episode chock-full of guests, but the most interesting one—wrestler CM Punk—gets brief screen-time before the main plot of the episode really gets going. Punk is wrestling’s chief neurotic, and pairing these two self-saboteurs makes for a scintillating back-and-forth at the open.
Professional wrestling is euphemistically called “sports entertainment,” a useful idea that gets at the strange juxtaposition of very-real athletic endeavors and pre-scripted performance. Wrestlers know the final destination of their show, but how they get there is often up to them. As for the “self-hater,” Maron, he fashions himself a heel (the sport’s term for “bad guy”), wrestling with himself and enduring the boos that he thinks rain down from the disapproving audience. But in reality, he’s the ultimate babyface, just looking for approval and confirmation. He knows what he has to do and where he wants to end up, but he’s battling against himself and his demons along the way, trying to stay the course when distractions abound. He’s always known what the best final destinations are for himself, but, of course, the path is a meandering one, littered with dives off the top rope and chair shots to the head.
But all that being said, I am extremely confused as to why CM Punk is in this episode. Though Punk and Maron discuss the mental difficulties of a performer’s life, he seems to be there mostly to transition (sloppily) into a conversation about body dysmorphia and expectations about weight. We’ve met Marc’s mom before, and her fit-Jewish-mother schtick feels like a slightly worn—but understandable piece—to Marc’s complicated family puzzle.
?Before he can begin to indulge in his cheat week, Marc’s doorbell rings, and his brother, Josh, bursts in. He’s clearly anxiety-riddled like Marc, but more manic, (and with a Hello Kitty bag full of cash) and is the latest character to participate in a series of absurdist visits interrupting Marc’s peace. At the depths of his depression a few weeks ago, Marc suggested that the best way to avoid pain was to avoid other people altogether. Being around others and becoming attached could only lead to hurt.
But maybe the real problem is the types of people Marc comes into contact with. Obviously he only has some control over that—you can’t choose your family—and maybe this is the real issue. Marc doesn’t know how to have a successful relationship because he never learned how.
As Marc and Josh’s parents arrive, the family is shown to be just as dysfunctional as you’d expect. Josh is a younger, more impressionable version of their shyster father, Larry (a skuzzy-as-ever Judd Hirsch). And though it must be hard to be a mother to these boys and a wife to Larry, Marc’s mom, Toni, is much more cruel and vapid when the family’s together, picking at her son’s bellies and making them feel small by making them feel big.
But in between squirts of lowfat dressing and paddleboard rental plans at the first Maron family dinner in 30 years, it becomes clear that Marc may be the closest thing to an adult in the family. He’s the helper—the babyface forging on toward “good”—while those around him get to have all the fun. But at the same time, he is his parents’ child, which makes him—at most—an ill-equipped, self-hating hero. How much of his neuroses were naturally occurring, and how many have been nurtured by a life found lacking?
The answer comes in the form of David Cross, who’s at his most therapeutic (fine…analrapeutic), bringing the Marons onto the WTF podcast for some group therapy. His recommended treatment of Hindu kush does the trick for ¾ of his patients, allowing Toni, Larry, and Josh a chance to open up. Weed brings them closer together but Marc, who remains (necessarily) soberingly sober, doesn’t get the satisfaction he’s looking for, whereas everyone else leaves seemingly satisfied customers.
There’s nothing especially “wrong” with “Marc’s Family.” It’s a fine hour of television with some funny scenes and a plot that holds together. The issue, though, is that it tries to cram far too much into 22 minutes of airtime. There are lifetimes of issues, pent-up frustrations, and nuanced relationship dynamics at play, and in trying to tackle all of them at once, things just feel sloppy.
All things considered, “Marc’s Family” is a fairly open-and-shut episode, which is what I liked least about it. Previous episodes with a single Maron parent alone often felt overcomplicated—fixing 50-plus years of conflict in 22 minutes is a tall task. When it’s time to fix a matrix of relationships (six permutations, total), there’s simply not enough time to even scratch the surface or begin the healing.
“This is probably going to be the last time we’re all going to be together…ever,” Josh mumbles. He’s right—as they all age, there’s a ticking clock and a lot of issues that need resolving before the final bells toll. While previous pairings were a reasonable undercard, all things considered, the Maron family main event was a bit of a dud.
John Vilanova is a New York and Philadelphia based writer and academic currently serving as the managing editor of Philadelphia Style magazine. His work has appeared in publications including Paste, Rolling Stone, Vogue, and others. Follow him on Twitter.