arts 09.17.14

High Maintenance

The cult-hit web series High Maintenance—tales of the city with weed as the litmotif—is easily one of our favorite shows right now, on- or offline.

It's not a stoner comedy. Not to harsh your mellow, but High Maintenance is a comedy of manners. And it's a really smart, well-written and acted, funny and insightful one.

Weed dealer on his stops around the city—that's the whole set up. What that allows the series' creators, writers and directors, Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, is a premise on which infinite variations can be wrung.

As The Guy (as the dealer is known throughout, played by Sinclair) bikes around the city, he enters people's daily lives, inevitably, in the middle of things: a hotel room with an assistant talking on the phone to her demanding boss, a lesbian couple who have just found a mouse in a glue trap they set in their apartment, a family Passover where the wheels have come off, the owners of an Airbnb loft trying to cope, a son taking care of his sick mother.

Episodes vary in length (5-15 minutes) and each is so satisfying because Sinclair and Blichfeld hew to a non-formula. Sometimes the Guy plays a larger role, sometimes he's seen only briefly. The tone ranges from farcical (as in the Seder episode, "Elijah"), to sweet (the Guy's niece visits New York, "Matilda"), to creepy ("Qasim").

What's consistent is the style: the writing appears loose and improvisational, but is carefully crafted. Sinclair and Blichfeld have a pitch-perfect ear for contemporary conversations and they hire actors who know how to underplay and who understand the value in throwing away lines.

Characters from one episode—the asexual man who does magic tricks, a poisonous young gay guy (played by Max Jenkins), Pinky (a memorable, if not abundantly gifted street dancer), the Airbnb owners—turn up again, telescoping the city back and forth between large and small.

Sinclair and Blichfeld are masters of the twist. Sometimes it's a lovely fragment: in "Heidi," a traffic cop clips his nails on a subway ride next to an annoyed Guy, only to find the two of them seated on the subway next to each other later in the day, laughing easily in each other's company.

Twists are important parts of two of the series' finest episodes, "Jonathan" and "Rachel". We're not going to spoil them for you but in the former, Hannibal Buress plays a comedian who discovers laughter can sometimes be painful and in "Rachel," Dan Stevens sheds Matthew Crawley for… well, just… wow.

The series is now hosted by Vimeo and you can watch the episodes here.

Howard Street

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