High Maintenance

5 out of 5

Created by: Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld

covers seasons 1 through 7

Watched the HBO season: Liked it.  Watched the preceding web-series seasons: Loved it.

Depending on how / where you watch or read about the show, HBO’s “new” late 2016 comedy is either in its first, or third, or sixth season.  Or something.  Regardless of the definition, writers and creators Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair (who also stars as the shared weed resource for every episode’s highlighted smoker/s) crafted about twenty episodes, between five to twenty minutes each, airing over a couple different streaming services before someone at HBO got wise and shifted them to the station for the most recent batch.

If, like me, you were unaware of these origins – or even if you were but hadn’t viewed the previous stuff – and if you were even more like me (to be so lucky!) and shared the exact same sense of criticism, you probably assumed High Maintenance – with its New York setting and obvious cannabis dedication – would be another Girls-esque cringe/deadpan comedy for the station, with an extra dose of heavy-lidded stoner jokes that have churned out plenty of worth-a-chuckle-but-there’s-only-so-many-munchies-jokes-to-make movies and shows for, like, decades.  In other words: Pass, thanks.  I’ve got plenty of TV already, and that doesn’t sound like anything particularly new under the sun.

However, I became intrigued when an internet commenter ragged on the show for featuring a weed salesman who doesn’t smoke.  While that comment really just sort of proved that that person wasn’t paying attention (weed guy definitely smokes), at that point was enough of tweak to the formula to encourage me to check out an episode.  And then another.  Cue the discovery sequence I mentioned at the start of this review.

High Maintenance is, essentially, a bunch of shorts focused on various weed smokers in New York, linked, generally, only by their dealer.  But the show isn’t about smoking.  Or about playing the cool reference game with the city.  It’s about people.  Smoking is sometimes a large facet of the episode, sometimes a small – or even only tangential – one.  Sometimes Weed Guy plays a big part, sometimes he’s hardly in it.  Sometimes things are outlandish, sometimes very, very normal – though, yes, the show is definitely viewed erring toward comedy, so there’s no secret drama sneaked in or anything.  Select characters do reappear, but every episode is absolutely standalone.

And it’s brilliant.  The HBO season is brilliant as well, it just took me more episodes to not expect a connecting storyline, or outright punchlines, and also to move past my judgments.  Once we accept that it’s not explicitly a stoner comedy, the secondary fear is that we’re getting into granola ‘everyone is beautiful’ territory with weed as the plane-leveller.  But that’s not the game either.  High Maintenance has no problem laughing at the world’s oddballs, but it does so in almost an endearing way, the laid back version of Tim and Eric’s embrasure of the outsider community.  So, yes, we run into agoraphobics and crazy homeless keyboard players and cross-dressers and other assorted types, and there’s a balance within the presentations (be they by actors or maybe legitimate oddballs or both) that’s laughing at oneself – fine, this is not “normal” – while shrugging the next moment.  This shrug can be a bond over smoking (such as the episode with the mentioned crossdresser, which is one of the series’ best episodes) or just because the world is actually full of strange-o’s, and it turns out things are just fine if you just go on about your business as usual.  This might be a fine line to granola-ism, but, no flowers inserted into rifles here.  And some people are just assholes, helpfully identified on Weed Guy’s caller id as such.

This review is a two thumbs up by a non-smoker, but obviously the show is drug friendly, so you smokesters can make it your new jam as well.  And you should.  High Maintenance has struck on a rare breed of writing that never need change.  By normalizing what could be considered anti-social – but is often just normal – behavior, the series gives us a frequently humorous, always entertaining mini-vision into the many normals that populate this city.  And who happen to have the same weed guy.