High Maintenance

'Hey guys my good friend Joe is back for another blog post so enjoy!'

When High Maintenance debuted on Vimeo in 2012 its premise was simple. We merely observed the lives of a series of complete strangers, through the lens of the one connection they all share – an unnamed, bearded, bike riding pot dealer. Ben Sinclair and Katja Blinchfled’s show took the form of a collection of vignettes, some loosely related, which explored the quirks, concerns and idiosyncrasies of various New Yorkers in episodes ranging in length from 5 to 12 minutes. During its time on Vimeo, which totalled 19 episodes, High Maintenance introduced us to a plethora of characters such as Scott (a highly motivated workaholic with a strange belief system), Ellen (a middle aged women undergoing chemotherapy) and Colin (a writer prone to procrastination who likes to wear women’s clothes). When High Maintenance hit the mark, as it so often did, it could be heart-warming, life affirming, hilarious or melancholy and often all at the same time. Though marijuana was a theme central to every story, much like it’s proprietor who was the only character to appear in every episode, it never stole the show. For High Maintenance, pot was a gateway into the lives of everyday people, who’s reasons for smoking were as varied as they were. In this way High Maintenance can potentially be seen as the antidote the current public perception of marijuana, where
most would associate it with schizophrenia and Seth Rogan comedies. On April 20th (likely not a coincidence) HBO announced that it has ordered a 6-episode series to premier in September 2016, leading fans of the show to worry about how the loose, free form style we had seen up until then would fare on network television. However, 18 months later Sinclair and Blinchfeld have shown that High Maintenance can not only make the leap to cable whilst keeping all the effortless charm that gained it a following in the first place, but develop its particular strain of brilliance even further.

From the offset, High Maintenance continues its trend of showing us a behind closed doors look at the lives of New York’s natives, often hilarious, occasionally sad but always enthralling. In their adaption to network television Sinclair and Blinchfeld structure the show, for the most part, in two acts. Episode 1 – Meth(od) – begins with the dealer stuck in a hilariously awkward transaction with a “Vin Diesel type motherfucker” and his silent companion, before switching to Max, a character previously explored in the episode Olivia, and his attempts to separate himself from a toxic friendship. Subsequent episodes place us in the midst of a swinger’s party, a nursery for adults and a legal battle over intellectual property. One standout episode (Grandpa) is framed almost entirely from the perspective of a dog. As this might suggest, High Maintenance takes some risks during its HBO run which largely pay off. The show thrives when it steps into wackier territory and, despite employing some techniques for storytelling purposes not previously used in the show’s Vimeo days (such as a lengthy dream sequence in Grandpa) the DNA remains distinctly recognisable as that of the original web series. The common humanity shared by High Maintenance’s subjects remains an integral part of the formula. Whilst no two characters share that much in common, they all have hopes and fears, and this is what the show focuses on. From a technical standpoint High Maintenance stands up fine without pushing the boundaries out too far. During its run on Vimeo each episode was produced for less than $1000 however, despite HBO’s notoriously large budgeting, the production values appear on the surface unchanged. However High Maintenance isn’t the type of show which requires flashy production and expensive effects work. The show is set in the already surreal New York and the camera captures enough magic to bring the city to life without any enhancement needed. The editing is sleek and the music (especially the original score by Grizzly Bear drummer Christopher Bear) fits perfectly. Though the shows focus is on multiple characters, giving each character limited screen time, could prove an impediment to the sizable cast, performances are subtly excellent and fleshed out enough to facilitate the character studies High Maintenance sets up. Every person we meet throughout the show feels like a real person. Peter Friedman as Jim; an oap eager to adopt the language and technology of the millennial generation, is a standout, as is Michael Cyril Creighton as Patrick; an agoraphobic man attempting to escape the self-imposed prison if his apartment. In a show that revolves around the people who make up New York’s diverse society performances like these are what makes up the core of High Maintenance.

Where High Maintenance falls down slightly is in its tendency to leave its stories open. The snapshot view we are given of people’s lives, though a large part of what makes the show feel organic, lack the closure we might get from more conventional, contrived shows. Though this is barely a criticism as the grounded nature of High Maintenance is what sets it apart, the unfortunate side effect is that a handful of episodes leave the audience wanting the events to tied together a little more neatly than they are.

Overall, High Maintenance has not only survived its transition to network television, but outdone itself. Everything which made it great in the first place remains, whist Sinclair and Blinchfeld use the new format to take to show in directions it’s never gone before. High Maintenance represents a welcome breath of fresh air on HBO and comfortably asserts itself as one of the best and most interesting new shows of 2016. 

Hope you have enjoyed this blog post.


No comments