While packing for a trip to Lubbock, Texas, early on during this week’s episode of Maron, our titular anti-hero Marc sums up his show in only five words:
“There’s a lot of variables.”
Through eight-thirteenths of the show’s second season, the formula remained relatively consistent—Marc encounters [X]; [Y] tries to help him solve it (or makes it worse), and Marc learns [Z]. When he’s making progress along multiple axes, it often comes when X, Y, and Z combine to make each other better. That allows for an upward slope.
But in recent weeks, the show suffered from a bit more of a scatter plot, rather than something traceable. Guest appearances have felt forced. Problems have been re-explored, with less satisfying solutions. And the encounters, at times, have felt unnecessarily contrived.
“I’m doing the same jokes over and over again. It’s horrendous. I don’t know how you do it,” Marc comments to his friend Andy Kindler. Whether he realizes it or not, it’s not a fair commentary on the sophomore stasis the show seems to have slipped into in recent weeks.
But sometimes, the way to cure what ails you is a change of scenery, and Marc getting out of LA is a welcome change. Unfortunately, Lubbock really winds up being a bit too similar to Marc’s LA. Opening comic Brandon and radio buffoons Pete and the Pig are just as much of a joke as the people Marc finds himself trapped with week after week. As a result, Marc remains the “most interesting guy in his world” every week, but at least he’s trying to reorient himself to the grid, even if the other points on it are stuck in place.
Marc’s home for the weekend is a La Quinta with a 24-hour waffle bar in advance of a not-so-high profile appearance at Uncle Morty’s Ha Ha Room, a (nonexistent) Texas institution, of sorts. In what I can’t help but call out as a meta-commentary on my own frustrations with the show’s frustrating sameness, Marc’s struggling to come up with “new shit” for his act. Pretty wild how that works, huh?
And while Lubbock doesn’t necessarily need to be the testing ground for A-level “shit,” the discovery of a nasty-looking black growth on Marc’s lip continues the trend of high-stakes developments on a week-to-week basis. It’s a high-wire act that many young shows find themselves walking, and for Marc, musings on morality and his own (big) mouth are weekly occurrences. But it kind of feels like he’s bitten off more waffle (or week-old licorice) than he should chew again as he runs around Lubbock looking for answers.
The only one with any seeming interest in providing them is Murph, a buttoned-up businessman and waffle fan who attempts to guide Marc’s spirit toward serenity… and more waffles. While Marc wanders Texas as it swelters around him, a “vortex of morons” in the form of a pair of shock jock caricatures, a grossed-out unhelpful doctor, and various other Texans prove unsurprisingly unhelpful.
All this leads to the episode’s first (non-licorice) twist, as Murph brings Marc to room 237 for a little jazz and counsel. When forced to confront his mortality, Marc’s neuroses again take hold; living like it was his last day on earth would mean being “consumed with panic and unable to function.” Marc would like us to think that’s not all that far from his reality, but what remains incongruous, though, has always been the fact that he’s way more put together in real life than he thinks he is.
I’m not sure if anyone’s ever made this comparison before, but we’re approaching a Lena Dunham zone with Maron, albeit surlier and more fully-clothed. Each week, we wonder how much of an episode’s content is Maron and how much is Maron. Some weeks—the recent disappearance of his cat, Boomer—are mined from real-life happenings. Others are mystical happenstance, though Lena gets Patrick Wilson and Maron gets…Murph.
But what people often fail to realize about both (Dunham in particular) is how different the real-life creators are from their semi-autobiographical, perpetually sometimes-slacking lead roles. Their faults are amplified, but with Dunham, this leads to criticism of the person. In this case, it feels like we’re coming at this the opposite way and criticizing the character for a week-after-week portrayal of Marc’s misses, despite the fact that he was successful enough to be allowed to create this show in the first place.
Anyway, Marc is encouraged to face his fears (and impending doom) on stage at his eventual comedy gig, and he winds up falling (upward) into new material, bringing a doctor on stage and riffing on WebMD. He’s able to reconstitute his pain and let others laugh at and with it—how Maron of him, no?
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.