And so we reach the end.
Rather than space the last two episodes out over three weeks (interrupted by the holiday next week), IFC opts to air “Projections” and “Mexican Angel” back-to-back and close out the first season of Maron with a double dose. Each episode offers a different approach: a fantastical look into the many paths Marc’s life could have followed, and a heavily autobiographical story about his relationship with his girlfriend. One takes a risk; the other explores well-trod territory.
It’s appropriate IFC chose to pair the last two episodes this way, because they reflect in 60 minutes what the preceding four hours have explored. Maron’s real life has informed his television show significantly, but Maron has also made some attempts to deviate from that, as in “Sponsor.” That’s not to say “Projections” is all whimsy; it’s very much influenced by Maron’s real-life hang-ups about not achieving the fame and fortune he perhaps expected—or that is enjoyed by his friend, a hotshot director of successful but vapid movies played by Eric Stoltz.
Seeing people from your past has a way of making you take stock. Marc and Danny (Stoltz) were in a comedy troupe together back in college in Boston, and they’re all that remains of the crew that moved to LA to make it in show business. A typically Maron-esque dichotomy is presented here in the form of Marc and Danny: Marc’s the guy who stayed true to his voice and convictions, and in the process alienated people and sabotaged his career; Danny sold out but grew rich and famous. Just in case anyone missed the distinction, Danny has a ponytail, two cell phones, and a 26-year-old trophy wife (who “paints celebrity portraits, but in the style of the great masters”). He could scarcely be more of a Hollywood cliché—as if Maron, the embittered also-ran, isn’t himself a cliché.
Marc’s disdain for Danny’s choices makes him dread their lunch, but Danny’s doing him a favor by putting him in a film so Marc can get health insurance. Does Danny enjoy flaunting his success by helping an old friend? Maybe. (Probably?) Does Marc still act like an asshole? Definitely.
The restaurant offers Marc a few chances to imagine another life. First he sees a family sitting at a table and pictures himself as a frustrated man who gave up on comedy to have a family and career in advertising—a decision that has calcified into a seemingly loveless marriage and a strained relationship with his two bratty kids. (Well, the girl doesn’t seem too bratty.) This, too, is a bit of a cliché, but it delivers one of the episodes laugh-out-loud moments, when one of the kids asks, “Are you guys getting a divorce?” and Ad Exec Marc replies “I’m open to it” without missing a beat. (I also enjoyed Real Life Marc yelling “Traitors!” to the kids.)
He flashes through an improbable gay future, where he’s dying to have children, a life as a chef after he walked away from showbiz, and finally, life as a homeless guy ranting in a way that doesn’t sound all that different from Maron in real life.
The projections give the episode an enjoyable rhythm; once viewers pick up on what’s happening, it’s fun to wonder where he’s going, Quantum Leap-style, next. The blowup with Stoltz felt a little typical: “You know why you never made it?” Stoltz says. “Because you’re afraid to try.” Maybe he’s right, but we don’t have a sense, nine episodes into this series, of how Marc has come to be this way. The episode implies that he’s right.
So all Marc has to do is take that role as Bobo The Hobo, who’s always trying to get on Bobcat Goldthwait’s garbage truck because he thinks it’s a spaceship, to have a taste of the bigger success that has eluded him. He comes around to the idea, and we see him later thanking Danny for it—only, in a twist, that turns out to be a projection from Danny.
I like not knowing if he takes the job. I also like watching him ham it up with Bobcat Goldthwait, who directed this episode. “Projections” causes a bit of dissonance, because we’re told in Maron’s first episode that things are going well for Marc. We don’t have a sense of how well, but apparently not so well that he has insurance.
In his episode-closing monologue, Maron mentions that we’re usually wrong about what people are thinking. “Most of the time people are thinking about themselves,” he says. “And the sooner you accept that, the less likely you are to put yourself in a position to make yourself uncomfortable.”
The problem in “Mexican Angel” is that Marc is only thinking about himself. The detour through Whimsy Town returns to Highland Park, where Jen is ostensibly getting kicked out of the room she rents in a strange house and wants to store her stuff for a few days in his spare bedroom. Still wary of her real intentions, Marc isn’t having it, even if he only keeps an unused yoga mat in there.
The question of Jen’s true intentions runs throughout “Mexican Angel”: Is she scheming to forcibly make their relationship more serious, or is Marc overreacting? Podcast guest Adam Scott suggests the latter (“Are you going to interview me, or…?”), but Marc soon learns that Jen had told her former housemates that she was moving in with her boyfriend.
When it all explodes into a heated argument later, the resolution is familiar to anyone who’s heard This Has To Be Funny or read Attempting Normal: In real life, Maron and his girlfriend had a horrible fight that was so loud the neighbors could hear it. A man came to his door and begged the two of them to stop fighting—turns out he had just lost his wife, and it upset him too much to see such conflict between people who love each other. Love? Yes, he even asked Maron if he loved her, so the first time Maron said it to her was after being prompted by “some kind of weird angel,” as Marc describes him on the show. Afterward, they banged on a pile of laundry—after closing the windows.
Everything except the laundry sex plays out in “Mexican Angel.” “Love is very threatening to me, and so are the people that cause it,” he says in the garage later. He loves the crazy ones, love is crazy, and he’s just going to have to accept it, he realizes. He hangs up his headphones, and roll credits.
As much as “Mexican Angel” sets up a second season, with Jen and Marc living together and Marc doing his best to accept her love and lunacy, that final episode was a soft way to go out. Maron, who wrote it, and director Luke Matheny seem to be going for a quiet, contemplative closing of the curtain on the season, but it felt a little underwhelming, like it needed something with a little more oomph. Or maybe it just felt too tidy, with Marc sitting in his garage saying, “Love, am I right? It’s crazy. Guess we just gotta keep on keepin’ on, bros.” He’s clearly trying to approach this big change in his life rationally, but it ended the season with a shrug.
It’ll be interesting to see how Maron progresses should it get a second season, which I hope it does. Maron imbued so much of his current life into the first season that it seems like he may be forced to rely much less on autobiography for a second one. Well, now that he’s trying to have a baby with his girlfriend, that offers another bountiful potential storyline, I suppose. But I hope that the show, should it continue, goes more outside the lines like it did in “Projections” or “Sponsor.” I also hope Josh Brener gets a lot more face time.
First seasons of television shows are terribly difficult and understandably patchy. That goes double for a show like Maron, which is such a personal project and one saddled with comparisons to his friend’s much different show, Louie. I think Maron could hit its stride in a second season. Here’s hoping it gets the chance.
“Mexican Angel”: B
- Maron’s repartee with Andy Kindler in “Projections” produced some funny moments, like Maron’s comment “You sell everything but tickets.” But my favorite moment of either episode was Kindler asking, “What, are you losing another Twitter war with a 9-year-old?” and Maron saying, “No, I’m done with that asshole.”
- One of Maron’s TV series deals in the ’90s had him playing an angry chef, so that alternate reality worked on a couple levels.
- Andy: “Don’t beat yourself up. There’s no scenario in which your life wouldn't be completely miserable.”
- Maron, on arguments: “In my mind it’s not over until somebody cries and I apologize.”
- Did the scene at the house party work for y’all? It felt a little flat to me.
- Thanks for reading, everyone. I would like to direct you comedy geeks to my weekly recaps of The Larry Sanders Show in case you’re not reading them. Please do!