To judge from the amount of attention it’s gotten online, it seems that the most memorable part of Maron Maron’s three-day stint co-hosting Attack Of The Show was his interview with Community creator Dan Harmon. (The show usually runs five days a week, including a best-of-the-week episode on Fridays, but this week’s run was cut short by G4’s annual, extensive-and-then-some live coverage of the San Diego Comic-Con.) Harmon, who Maron introduces as “one of the most notable unemployed people in the country,” talks about his place in the network TV food chain, discussing his uncontrollable need to put his personal stamp on his work while comparing the making of a TV series to making hamburgers or crack: “In television, you’re engaged in the pacification of the masses, but I think the masses should be pacified. They deserve it.” (Then, seeming to take on the persona of a successful purveyor of mainstream television entertainment, he says, “I’m a good pacifier. Suck me.” “Man,” says Maron, “the metaphors are flying!”)
One thing people who didn’t see the interview but read some of the quotes taken from it may not grasp is how engagingly sane and relaxed it all seemed. Harmon doesn’t seem angry or embittered—two emotions that come through loud and clear in some of the statements credited to him in the immediate wake of his firing by NBC—but reasonable, disappointed and a little dazed, but also really glad to hear from Maron that some people do like his show. He concedes that the show was getting stomped on in the ratings by American Idol and The Big Bang Theory. (“I’m not gonna talk about The Big Bang Theory,” says Maron, “because my girlfriend tends to like it.”) And he acknowledges that Community wasn’t conceived to take the mass audience by storm, but says that he thought that NBC had a history of appreciating low-rated shows that were also “critics’ darlings.” (“If you look at the third season, I think you can start to see me go, ‘Never mind! Just give me a good review in the Times!”)
The Harmon interview probably benefited enormously from the fact that it was Maron, a colleague (and someone who’s often called “a comics’ comic,” which is the stand-up equivalent of a critics’ darling) who’s built a legend out of coming back single-handed after his career took some hard knocks. Maron’s ability to achieve an instant rapport with show-business figures with whom he’s simpatico—a group that seems to include just about everybody except Gallagher—also resulted in fine, thoughtful chats with John Oliver and the junk-culture artist Chris “Coop” Cooper. (When Maron asks Oliver if he gets any flak about seeking his fortune in America when he goes home to England, Oliver replies, “No, because they didn’t know me before I left. I went through that country with total lack of interest.” Maron: “Did it feel bad to be rejected by your countrymen?” Oliver: “No, it felt inevitable.”)
For some half a dozen years, Attack Of The Show has been G4’s best excuse for its existence. A daily mishmash of technology and entertainment news, comics reviews, rundowns of viral videos and hot tips on assorted species of pop ephemera, it has some of the friendly, in-your-face graphics pizzazz of early MTV, with the self-importance drained out. The people presenting it may care a lot about their specific nerd enthusiasms of choice, but unlike some of the vee-jays from the Jurassic era, they aren’t under the impression that they’re rewriting the rule book on youth culture from the ground up. Part of the charm of G4’s take on youth culture in the “nerds ascendant!” era is the shared understanding that the rule book changes faster than anybody can write it. It’s a fun show that’s actually informative, and might be considered essential for those of us who are past the point of being able to learn about the latest stuff from our dorm mates.
Recently, though, it’s been suffering from a slight identity crisis due to the departure of the host team that had been anchoring it since 2006, Olivia Munn and Kevin Pereira. Munn gradually faded from the show in 2010, the same year she began a brief career as a Daily Show correspondent that was most notable for the bewildering level of vitriol with which some people reacted to her hiring. But between her current role on The Newsroom (as a financial analyst with the deranged, superhero name of Sloan Sabbath) and her appearance on the big screen in Magic Mike (where she gets to share three-ways with Channing Tatum and unnerve the straitlaced object of his affections by trying to check out the part of her tattoo that dips below the bikini line), it seems likely that she isn’t coming back. Pereira left just a few weeks ago, though G4 still hasn’t updated its opening credits sequence, so the show literally begins with a reminder of him.
The greatest reminder of Munn is her replacement, Candace Bailey, who smiles pretty much non-stop and is in a little over her head whenever she’s required to part her teeth in order to form words. She seems very sweet, and maybe that was enough to get her the job. Munn had a deep, rich mean-girl streak that may have contributed to the bad feeling she seems to inspire in some people, though she was often hilarious on the show. (There was one occasion when members of the show’s super-plus-nerdy core audience were given the chance to talk to Munn—who, in case you do not know, is a looker—in the studio, through the miracle of the live TV hook-up, and dazzle her with their cyber-studly charms. “Hi, Olivia,” said one, by way of introducing himself, “how are you doing?” “Getting bored,” was her reply.)
Maron isn’t the first comedian to guest-host the show, before or after Perira’s departure. (Paul Scheer, Doug Benson, Nerdist host Chris Hardwick, and Community so-stars Alison Brie and Danny Pudi have all put in time there.) But he’s probably the oldest host, and he may be older than any of the regular correspondents, too. (DVD reviewer Chris Gore is almost Maron’s age, but he compensates for it by having had his taste in movies cryogenically frozen when he was nine. Gore first made a name for himself as one of the co-creators of the print magazine-turned-website Film Threat, which I used to pick up from time to time, before I realized that I would never agree with what the editors thought constituted a threat, and only rarely agree with them about what qualified as a film.)
Maron’s time in the driver’s seat was eye-opening, for what it demonstrated about how much the right on-air talent could transform the show without fundamentally altering the usual format. He was allowed to begin Monday and Tuesday’s shows with a monologue about relevant news items, such as the use of drone technology for personal commercial use (“I don’t even want you to have your cell phone in movie theaters!”) and the overhyped threat from the DNS changer virus. But he mainly just proved that the show could have a smart host with a broad view of things—someone whose notion of an interview goes beyond asking Robert Kirkman how far ahead he knows what’s going to happen in his comic book—without becoming too heavy and turning into Nova.
The reins were pulled back a bit on Wednesday’s show; Maron didn’t get to do his monologue, and he spent much of his time onscreen side-by-side with Candace Bailey, as part of an experiment to see how much chemistry a TV partnership can lose over the course of an hour when it starts out with none. A person with a suspicious bent might wonder if the Powers That Be at G4 were sufficiently distracted by the build-up to Comic-Con that they took their eye off the ball long enough for the inmates to grab control of one wing of the asylum. But when the hangover from Comic-Con clears, it would be nice if someone responsible for the direction of AOTS recognizes how good Maron was at his most unfettered and reflects on what this says about the elastic possibilities of the show itself. It’s something worth taking into account while searching for a regular host, or maybe a rotating menu of hosts, to take Kevin Pereira’s place. The party doesn’t have to end just because Marc Maron has to get back to his garage.