High Maintenance review: HBO’s hazy, dreamy new comedy series is a hidden gem
High Maintenance is HBO’s answer to Louie and Broad City. A New York-set comedy-drama about lonely people trying to find a connection - and that connection turning out to be a marijuana delivery guy.tv Updated: Oct 26, 2016 08:26 IST
There is only one cure for the universal sense of loss that is felt when a great show ends: Finding the next one. Like those catatonic people at the end of The Truman Show, we find that switching the channel is the best coping mechanism; a cold yet affectionate act that is, despite the giant gaping void, filled with optimism. And perhaps it is in one of these sorrowful states that you will discover the hidden gem that is HBO’s new ‘comedy’ High Maintenance.
It is based on, or rather a continuation of, creators Ben Sinclair and his wife Katja Blichfeld’s web series of the same name about a marijuana delivery guy in New York City. Before this show premiered, I had heard of the web series only in passing, thanks to actor Dan Stevens’ enthusiastic endorsements. But after watching the first episode of the TV show, it became clear that this ignorance needed to be rectified. So, by the time episode 2 rolled around (no pun intended), I had seen all 6 seasons of the web series – which isn’t as impressive as it sounds because… erm… the episodes last between 5 and 10 minutes.
But still, in the space of one week, it was clear: High Maintenance was the cure.
On paper (again, no pun intended), the adventures of a weed guy in NYC makes it sound like a Seth Rogen comedy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. High Maintenance is as much about drugs as Friends is about Central Perk’s damn fine Macchiato. It is a dreamy, surreal, intimate - and yes - trippy peek into lives overwhelmed by urban loneliness.
It is, to borrow a line from Spike Lee’s 25th Hour (one of the most powerful odes to NYC ever filmed), about everyone “from the row-houses of Astoria to the penthouses on Park Avenue, from the projects in the Bronx to the lofts in Soho. From the tenements in Alphabet City to the brownstones in Park Slope to the split-levels in Staten Island.”
Ben Sinclair stars as The Guy, who, despite being the physical caricature of a white drug dealer (he wears flannel shirts, boots, has unkempt hair, and drowns out the city’s noise with electronic music from his headphones), embodies none of what The Wire has taught us about such characters. Ironically, he might be the least-prominent character of the show, which mostly preoccupies itself with a potpourri of 2-3 NYC oddballs per episode.
For some he is a friend, a voice to fill the silence in their lives. For others, he is a therapist, someone who, like this show, can listen without any judgment. Everyone, from the Pakistani immigrant teen in episode 2 (Museebat) to the Gatsby the dog - who is, no joke, the main character of episode 3 (Grandpa) - is searching through the hazy smoke of the city to find a connection. The Guy, who is revealed to be a rather melancholy man himself towards the end of the final episode, is the thread that connects them.
The segments, like the web series’, last no more than 15 minutes, but even in that limited time, purely because of the show’s attention to detail and affection it has for its quirky characters, it feels as if you’ve known them for six seasons and a movie. A fleeting glimpse at a bed sit table adorned with Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith, to a wall-full of Helen Hunt portraits – we learn more about the lives of these individuals that The Guy visits from what is shown than is told.
He meets them in moments of need, however insignificant, and usually at their homes, where they are at their least guarded. It’s like watching a documentary directed by Spike Jonze or Sofia Coppola; bittersweet in its depiction of 21st century loneliness – not as weird as Louie but definitely a lot weirder than Broad City (both excellent, and both fellow quirky NYC-set comedies with which High Maintenance shares a similarly unstructured, vignetty style).
And then, despite this style, it finds time for moments of poignancy. When a first generation Russian immigrant with a weakness for Instagram sits The Guy down and asks him why he hasn’t been arrested yet, and whether his being white has anything to do with it, The Guy responds, “You said you wanted me to tell you some funny stories about weed and not… race politics.”
I realise that everything I’ve said makes it seem more hipster than Zooey Deschanel giving a solo ukulele performance at a vegan fro-yo bar, but you’re going to have to get over that. High Maintenance is the good stuff.