Marc Maron’s comedy has always been tinged with darkness. The stand-up is known for being open, honest, and cynical about nearly every aspect of his life. In his latest HBO special, Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark, that includes the sudden death of his girlfriend, director Lynn Shelton, who died from undiagnosed acute leukemia in May 2020.
While this special is a capsule of Maron’s grieving process, it’s not the only on-screen artifact of the pair’s impactful relationship. Even before becoming romantically involved, the two worked together on the comedian's show Maron, two of his stand-up specials, and what ended up being Shelton’s final film, Sword of Trust. But the pair’s greatest collaboration also provided some of the best moments in the Netflix series GLOW.
Maron starred in the gone-too-soon dramedy about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling as Sam Sylvia, the cult horror film director tapped to helm a new basic cable wrestling show. The character himself isn’t all that different from Maron: grumpy, pessimistic, and not a fan of people in general. He’s not the easiest guy to like, but especially under Shelton’s direction he’s able to show specks of his humanity through his callous exterior.
GLOW’s first Shelton-directed episode is “The Liberal Chokehold,” Season 1’s penultimate episode. It becomes clear just how important this is for everyone in the rag-tag team, even Sam. When faced with the loss of the show that brought them together, everyone bands together to do whatever it takes to raise the money for a venue to film in, from running a bikini car wash to pretending to be recovering drug addicts at a WASP-y political fundraiser. And it’s at that party that Sam has a series of revelations that prove he needs to hold onto this project tight.
It’s an episode that does what many of GLOW’s episodes do best, managing to center the entire ensemble without feeling too packed, giving each of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling their time to shine and get a laugh. In particular, the way Shelton guides Maron through his character’s emotional roller coaster is a prime example of what she was able to accomplish as a director.
After downing champagne and cocaine, Sam spirals upon finding out that his magnum opus, a “semi-autobiographical, psycho-sexual, time-travel drama” 10 years in the making has just been upended by Back to the Future. It’s a scene that is played for comedy, but the devastation that Sam feels is real, a tricky balance to get right. Then, while wallowing in complete devastation, Sam abandons shame and tries to make a move on teenager Justine (Britt Baron), who shoves him away in disgust while revealing that she’s his daughter.
The episode ends on a quiet scene of Sam in an empty room, his mind clearly reeling over everything that’s come to pass as he sits in his disappointment of himself and the world that seems to have no place for his vision. It exemplifies Shelton’s style as a director, lingering on her subjects for just that extra second that allows the audience to see them sink into their true feelings. It’s a style that also allows Maron to drop his hardened façade and let the vulnerability seep through.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.
TOPICS: Marc Maron, HBO, Netflix, GLOW, Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark, Lynn Shelton