HIGH MAINTENANCE Maintains Its High on HBO
By Roxanne Sancto
It is easy to assume a show about a guy – The Guy – who delivers marijuana to clients all over New York City would be about the man himself or, at the very least, about getting stoned. In actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
High Maintenance, the brainchild of husband and wife duo Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, started out as a web-series with episodes spanning no longer than five to fifteen minutes. Each episode focused on direct clients of The Guy, or people who were somehow involved with him otherwise, and named after people who were mentioned in conversations we witnessed throughout. High Maintenance, the web series, was essentially a character-driven show that granted the viewer a voyeuristic look into the lives of those looking to take the edge off and, in doing so, gave us a clearer idea of what it means to be “the man” (in the Lou Reed sense of the phrase) in New York city. The Guy is not the kind of salesman who believes in quick, impersonal interactions; some of his clients become friends, whereas others continue to be a pain in his backside (such as Max and Lainey, whom he has dubbed “Assholes” for obvious reasons). This approach to his business, and the show as a whole, allowed for some intimate and comical situations in which a bond with the respective characters was established in less than fifteen minutes.
The beauty of the short-story telling in the web-series was that each episode felt like a solid, stand-alone story that left nothing wanting. Though the time The Guy and the viewer spent with the given characters was limited, we got a true sense of who these people were and what made them tick. These meetings may have been pre-determined, but they felt altogether spontaneous in that The Guy never really knew what he’ll find upon arrival, and when his clients found themselves in particularly chaotic or peculiar situations, he was happy to offer a helping hand.
The first season of the web-series focused heavily on how The Guy forms a part of his clients’ life, either on a routine basis or as a result of a ten minute interaction. Not only is he The Guy who brings the weed at the end of a long, hard day and is thus associated with a relaxing after-thought, he also deals in handing out favors to first-time and long-standing clientele. He turns a client with clinical anxiety on to her first ever high without letting her spin-out on thoughts of dying, warns another of his new relationship with “Homeless Heidi” and helps two feminist, neo-hippies with the peaceful and non-violent killing of a mouse. While all these scenarios don’t necessarily seem earth-shattering, they are all bonding moments that prove that sometimes an outsider can learn more about you in the first five minutes of meeting you, than a good friend can in two years in your presence.
We were all eager to see how the web-series short format would translate into thirty minute episodes on HBO, though we never, for one second, expected it to lose its character driven magic. What was most worrying about this transition was whether the emotional depth of these characters would still be highlighted with much the same intensity as they were before. It would have been easy to get lost in the new thirty minute time-span by, for example, focusing on various characters and thus not allowing enough time for each to fully establish.
On the contrary, the first episode on High Maintenance’s new platform HBO, titled “Meth(od)” was proof that the show has not lost its integrity, its creative ways with the camera or its familiar style of character study. If anything, the new format allowed Sinclair and Blichfeld to delve even deeper into the psychology of the characters introduced on “Meth(od)” resulting in the show taking on a more dramatic approach in the instance of Max (one of the “Assholes” shown on the previous web-series), for example. Though the first episode on HBO works as a “pilot” it also works as a continuation of the web-series: those who have already been introduced to Max in the web-series now come to understand – at least partially – what made him turn into such an annoying, asshole who thinks the world owes him something in the first place. Instead of prompting the viewer to hate him more than before, “Meth(od)” encourages fans to sympathize with his insecure ways, whereas first-time viewers may never get to hate him at all – so you see, it works in both ways.
“Meth(od)” opened up to a rather humorous scenario in which The Guy finds himself trapped in the apartment of a client who is finding numerous ways to stall the payment transaction. The buffed-up Vin Diesel look a-like doesn’t resort to violence, but various intimidation techniques involving samurai swords, designed to make The Guy uncomfortable, while a monosyllabic friend watches in silence. When the guy finally manages to leave, it takes a while until we see where he has moved on to next. As he’s heading to his unknown destination he loses his phone which, by pure coincidence, ends back in the hands of Max, who ultimately immerses us in his frantic story of loneliness and compliance, two aspects of his life he’s desperately trying to trade in for genuine companionship and a sense of self he can respect.
Max’s story inspires the viewer to question the roots of unhealthy addictions – to narcotics or otherwise – and distinguish between the control we exert on our own lives, and the control people in our environment hold over us.
“Meth(od)” was a great success as a continuation of the web-series as well as a premiere episode on HBO, which continues in the same vein of intimacy as it did before.
We’re looking forward to the maintenance of this HBO high.
High Maintenance continues Fridays (11:00–11:35 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO.