On IFC’s “Maron,” people are often resentful of comic Marc Maron. They’re not apoplectic, like the Larry-haters in the somewhat similar “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” notably Susie Essman, whose anti-Larry tirades are loud and legendary. They’re more wont to be quietly fuming at him over past offenses, from back when Marc was a bitter-tongued drug user setting fire to every bridge he crossed.
In the season two premiere of “Maron,” on Thursday at 10 p.m., Marc goes on the talk show “Talking Dead,” which is hosted by Chris Hardwick (and airs on IFC sibling network AMC). Alas, Hardwick is harboring a grudge against Marc, and the live appearance becomes a public shaming in which our hero gets taken down a few notches — and then a few more when his angry girlfriend, Jen (Nora Zehetner), calls into the show.
In this way, “Maron” is a series largely set in a state of aftermath, which gives it an almost sweet quality. Much of the comic friction is rooted in Marc’s past actions, so the focus of the action is often on the healing more than the breach. These days, Marc — the semi-fictional character based on comic and “WTF” podcaster Maron — is in a state of recovery and goodwill. He is therapized, as he ponders how we’re all looking to be re-parented by the people in our lives, and he is self-aware. Yes, his life is still crammed with amusing neuroses and insecurities, but the show never brings him to the farcical extremes of offense that draw the angry mobs to Larry David’s door.
Based on a preview of four episodes, the second season of “Maron” will be as laid-back and lighthearted as the first. Unlike Louis C.K., whose “Louie” is a chronicle of despair, Maron isn’t aiming to get heavy or deep; his midlife crisis is about buying a $4,000 amplifier and then worrying about dropping it. Tonally, “Maron” reminds me of one of the early shows in the playing-a-version-of-yourself trend, Showtime’s “The Chris Isaak Show.” Both are flip, easy to watch, and somewhat slight, with heroes whose self-absorption is a source of the comedy.
“Maron,” though, has much better guest stars than Isaak did, with the likes of Sarah Silverman, Dave Anthony, and Rob Riggle showing up as his friends and podcast guests. Talking about Marc’s romantic issues, Silverman says, “The joke is more important than the relationship, and that’s why we’re all gonna die sad and alone.” Sally Kellerman recurs as Marc’s freewheeling mother, who is obsessed with her son’s weight and casually drops lines such as, “I’ve never been a fan of Marc’s humor.” David Cross appears in an episode, to facilitate a détente among Marc’s warring family members, including his father, played by Judd Hirsch. None of these characters is particularly three-dimensional; they’re there to drop one-liners or serve as cartoonish supporting players. But all seem to be having fun.
Recently on his podcast, Maron said that he has begun to realize how his identity as the asker of questions and the trigger for his guests’ self-reflection may be his best self. Certainly the Marc on “Maron” isn’t, and not because he is offensive. He’s just less worldly and curious than the man with the microphone, and less compelling. He’s easier to forget once the show is over.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.