Here’s the thing about people who smoke pot: you think you’ve got them all figured out. Sure, our understanding of who, exactly (read: everyone) is smoking pot these days has evolved, but that doesn’t take away from the stereotypical reasons and behaviors that inform our societal view on the stuff and those that use it. Lazy. homebodies. It’s easy to assume, based on a few context clues, that you know enough of what someone is about. But here’s the thing: so often we are so, so wrong. Surface-level assumptions are just as much of a buzz-giver as anything else—and that’s where HBO’s new series is insistent to prove you wrong. There’s something incredibly potent about this year’s strain of High Maintenance (don’t worry, we’ll keep the weed puns to a minimum). The one-time Vimeo series gets its TV debut on Friday, September 16th at 11pm, and it is one of the best new series we’ve seen this year.
A character study in every sense of the word, these standalone episodes have one thing in common: Ben Sinclair’s unnamed pot delivery guy simply known as “The Guy” who tangentially—or literally—connects the stories told over the course of the 30-minute episodes. Shot like a series of independent film shorts, what Sinclair and his co-creator Katja Blichfeld accomplish is some sort of perfection rarely expressed this well and confident on screen. Equal parts stirring, hilarious, and heart-rendering, the eccentric client base the Guy services throughout Manhattan and its boroughs paints a picture of people and their realities, not judgements on their actions.
And the turns. Oh, the turns. High Maintenance will basically give you comedy-and-tragedy whiplash when its seemingly straightforward stories gain their twist(s). Take, for instance, the first episode of the season. Starring Heléne Yorke and Max Jenkins as their fan-favorite characters from the original series, the episode promises a boy-done-right tale of getting out from underneath your addictions (literal or otherwise) and carving out a healthy life for yourself—free of the toxic people, places, and things around you. What we get, instead, is something far more real and devastating. Jenkins’ character (also named Max) and his enabling, selfish best frenemy bring out the worst in one another, but to pull one away from those old habits and bad behaviors is no small feat, and the resulting introduction to the series shows that Blichfeld and Sinclair are not fucking around.
Which isn’t to say the show is all gloom and doom in its characterizations, either. The series’ third episode is a particularly joyful highlight thanks to its point of view—told through the eyes of the shaggiest shaggy dog ever, Gatsby—and the love story that unfolds between the pup and his dog walker (played by Orange in the New Black‘s Yael Stone).
The amount of effort, care, and nuance it takes to make a storytelling perspective feel genuine rather than a precious gimmick is impressive, and deftly handled. The poignancy found in these unanticipated places only strengthens the storytelling and series as a whole, weaving surreality and a sort of romanticized care for its subjects into the core of every frame, plot point, and line. And don’t even get us started on the season finale—it is shattering and uplifting in a quiet sort of way that feels more intimate, more human, and more honest than most things we’ve seen on TV. It’s the sort of series that devastates and delights simultaneously, begging for rewatches and further conversations.
High Maintenance premieres Friday, September 16th at 11pm on HBO.
5 out of 5 high AF burritos:
Are you going to check out High Maintenance? Let us know in the comments below.