The “Maron” Season 4 premiere is one of the most difficult hours of comedy you’ll see this year. For those disconnected from the Marc Maron whose real-life inspires the series, it’s a challenge to watch a character you’ve come to love — or at least empathize with — struggle to salvage what little is left of his post-relapse life. For the vast majority of viewers who came into “Maron” already connected to its leading man via his “WTF” podcast or long-running stand-up, what happens in the back-to-back half-hour episodes Wednesday night goes beyond caustic. It could be damn near devastating.
And that’s all by design.
“Maron” has never been a show that’s easy to watch. Devoid of the joke-a-minute comedy culture dominating modern airwaves, and hellbent on chronicling the fictional alter ego of a man many have come to adore via his podcast, the IFC comedy is somewhat dependent on knowing the man outside of the series before you can appreciate his other self within it. The meta-reality of “Maron” is a hurdle for casual viewers unto itself, but it’s the first of many bold choices they’d have to overcome before acceptance. In other words, it’s quite befitting of a man who’s always pushed forward doing things his own way while operating in a profession demanding popular approval.
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Yet anyone who watched the Season 3 finale could probably tell big changes were coming. Maron, the character, started down an addict’s slippery slope of prescribed medications that resulted in him blowing his biggest break to date. Watching a man’s sobriety disappear is rough enough for what’s billed as a half-hour comedy, but combining his self-destructive choices with the brash rejection of advice and offers for help already inherent in the character made the finale both memorable and difficult. Rather than shying away from the issue, Season 4 digs in its heels — just like the man himself.
Many series — comedies or dramas — have dealt with addiction and rehab in various ways. What “Maron” does to separate itself from the pack is two-fold. First, it doesn’t get him there right away, nor does it take a conventional route to obtaining assistance. How and why it comes around speaks so well to the character himself it’s almost surprisingly impactful considering how well it fits. Once he’s there, though, Marc’s knowledge of what’s coming — what the steps are — amps up his ornery nature all the more, making him a less than traditional patient even as he reluctantly falls in line.
The results are two episodes that feel tonally right in line with their predecessors, but fresher to the TV landscape. They’re not particularly funny, nor are they all that insightful, but they do give us an honest character study unlike any other. By honing in on what makes Marc Maron exactly who he is by separating him from the bubble of fame he’s been desperately trying to expand, “Maron” seems to have found its way into the “peak TV” conversation.
Paradoxically, it’s not likely to break through to the mainstream. That’s largely due to the heavy nature of its narrative, but also because it’s already hit Season 4, and bingers aren’t likely to wait through three seasons of less-than-top-tier TV to get to something that could, maybe, reach that height by season’s end. Where it goes after these first two episodes will become puzzle pieces as fascinating as they are essential in determining how goo “Maron” can get — especially considering how far he’s fallen and how committed the series is to realistically and patiently addressing his journey in general.
And here’s where the meta-narrative really kicks in for “Maron.” Unlike Louis on “Louie,” Marc, the character, is acting out scenarios specific to the universe of the series, rather than the current life of Marc Maron, the real guy. Yes, he’s gone through this before — Maron has spoken openly about his alcohol and drug abuse — but readdressing this specific period of his life through his show as if it were occurring now, is more of a statement than the existential thought process being worked out on “Louis,” or even the exaggerated commentary on celebrity image seen on something like “Episodes.” He seems to be probing the depths of the character he’s created both on and off screen, exploring and challenging his appeal in truly admirable fashion.
On the show, Maron isn’t merely in denial about his recovery or need for it. His character is working against exactly what the man himself already knows, making Season 4 an even more aware self-analysis than seasons past.
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