Maron’s typical narrative form doesn’t normally lend itself to much action, especially not Breaking Bad-style caper episodes, but thanks to the unlikely chemistry between Marc and guest star Danny Trejo, “Sponsor” is able to deliver on exciting and uncomfortable plot elements without losing the show’s brand of neurotic humor, even if we are well aware that the stakes are never actually too high.
After Marc spoke at his A.A. meeting, Trejo’s character (Manny) approaches him to compliment him on his speech and, in the process, opens up to Marc about his struggles with addiction and his recent release from prison. After some back-and-forth, Marc agrees on being Trejo’s sponsor, an assignment that begins right away as the two head to get coffee.
The duo orginally bond by trading old war stories about getting high and drunk, most of which are funny (Marc was so coked up once that he thought his heart was going to stop and, to calm himself down, he masturbated four times. “Saved my life, man.”) In fact, they get so swept up in swapping these accounts that when Manny goes a little too far in describing his need for heroin, he persuades Marc that he should get his fix on, and even though Marc has never delved into the world of heroin, he’s so enthralled by what Manny is describing that his natural reaction is to say ‘yes’ before immediately coming to his senses. Even though Marc has been sober for many years, the fact remains that he is and will always be an addict, and jumping back into that mindset, even for simply a second, scares the shit out of him.
Following their coffee date, Marc is about to drop Manny off at his new home — a halfway house for released convicts — and once again Manny opens his heart up to Marc, saying that this shit hole of a residence is all that a bad man like him deserves. Marc (so far he’s acing the sponsor test) picks up Manny’s spirits, so much so in fact that he stays in Marc’s car to take him on some errands with the hopes of tying up some loose ends now that he’s home.
After mysteriously picking up a dufflebag and a donkey-shaped pineta, Manny and Marc head to their first destination, the house of one of Manny’s old gangster buddies (who lives in Marc’s neighborhood). With Marc hilariously by his side in the criminal ring, Manny asks out of the game while handing the leader guy the dufflebag full of cash as a sort of buyout. To celebrate, the gangster wants to drink a shot of Mescal with Manny, but after Manny declines, he states that he can’t trust a man who won’t drink with him, which is Marc’s cue to jump into the conversation: “We get it, you’re a bad ass and I’m terrified, but are we even debating that addition is a disease? Would you force-feed candy into a little diabetic baby’s face? Would you drag you wife with skin cancer to the beach? Would you give a known killer a gun? Ok, bad example.” It’s completely absurb, but that’s part of the reason it works so well. Marc, here more or less against his will, won’t be pushed around by these guys about something they know nothing about. The bit where the gangster turns out to have a heart at the end because his uncle is seven years sober was a bit cheesy, but overall it was a well-played scene.
Less so was Manny, completely out of character from what we’ve seen so far, going to the guy who put him in jail’s house to kill him. Marc, like the “Angel” nickname Manny had annointed him earlier, comes to save the day again, pleading for him not to kill the guy.
Manny keeps the final errand a secret, and Marc has had enough at this point, but because he has agreed to the responsibility of being the guy’s sponsor, what’s one more stop in this crazy day? Marc is asked to deliver the donkey pinata to the house, where it turns out Manny’s granddaughter is having a birthday party. Although I can’t think of a specific instance off the top of my head, this trope of criminal unable to see his daughter is an old one done plenty of times before, but despite its cliche-ness, Trejo still brings plenty of emotion to the scene to make it work. And Marc, getting better as an actor by the week, holds his own too as he realizes the damage of addiction through the experiences of someone else for a change.
Although he tried, Manny simply cannot fix everything in one day after a lifetime of screwing things up, as Marc plainly tells him (and as he knows all too well). I doubt we will see Manny again by the time Season One is up, but it was fun to see these two go on an adventure together and for Marc to empathize with a respectable human being for a change.
– Marc’s snobby barista won’t give him his triple espresso over ice because it will ruin the intrigety of the beans…Unless Marc shows up with an old school Mexican gangster, in which case, sure, whatever way you like it, Mr. Maron.
– Ken Jeong joins Marc in the garage this week, although he didn’t do much talking. Instead, he mostly just listened to Marc unload about what it’s like to be an asshole drunk versus an asshole sober.
– Marc doesn’t miss booze or drugs. He misses the chaos and feeling victorious for having simply lived through it.
– “One night, me and another comic drank a fifth, crashed this party up in the hills, and then…I kinda just got sick. Wow, thought there was more of a story there.”
– Dont drop the gentrification bullshit on Marc. He was in Highland Park well before the gays and the hipsters arrived.
– Manny, a man who lived most of his life in actual physical danger, doesn’t understand Marc’s quasi-eating disorder. Of course, his mother’s issues with food were passed down to him, as she once told him, “I don’t think I could love you if you were fat.”