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  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

Let's Get High Maintenance

High praise after watching most of High Maintenance. I have the feelings.


RAVE/REC


Spoilers For: One-puff plot lines in Seasons 1 and 2 of High Maintenance.

This show is proud to meander joyfully for extended sequences of ridiculousness. As in life, these scenic digressions only matter for the seconds during which they occur.


No matter who you are or where you are, eventually, you’re gonna need your fix.

I’m talking about a hit of escape--tailored to your unique and idiosyncratic needs. I won’t assume your bliss. It could be in the form of a red glass of wine, a dark piece of chocolate, a jog without your cell phone, a Twitter doom scroll, a shower sob alone, or, hey, even a smirk of approval from Debbie Jones at church when she begrudgingly admits your lemon squares are “above average." No matter your vice, we know we need our cravings satisfied lest they attempt to overwhelm us. It is in pursuing the human mission to fulfill these cravings (not in suppressing them!) that we learn the most about our strengths and follies.


Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed. It’s a plant that acknowledges and admits the transgressive potential of the every day. Hate it, smoke it, joke that it’s only for burnouts, exalt in it, whatever it all you like. It’s here to stay.


In honor of New York finally legalizing recreational marijuana (it’s still a few years down the pipe, but a puff of celebration nonetheless is required), I felt called to finally fire up High Maintenance and see what this smoke-filled, verisimilitude-driven dramedy is all about.


Created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair first as a web series and then with HBO, High Maintenance explores the antics of marijuana salesman known only as “The Guy” (played by Sinclair), an unassuming, quiet, balding, bearded Brooklynite in his early thirties, who ricochets and vibes with the multifarious New Yorkers who request his green services. He sees slivers of the lives they live, and leaves his trace on them--sometimes uplifting, other times, inadvertently complicating those he meets. This show captures the yearning of living in New York. I love it.



WHY TO LOVE IT:


#1. It’s tender.


I felt an overwhelming and aching sadness while watching a lonely shut-in who lost his mother ache to connect with The Guy and fail miserably. To watch someone struggle to articulate themselves is quite spectacularly uncomfortable, and fully worth watching, even if you want to look away. These visceral moments of self-discovery proliferate throughout HM.


#2. It’s biting.


Just when you think the stakes are low, the too-white female empowerment group going to the Women’s March to stand against Trump’s election is visited by a wandering boa constrictor through the window. Didn’t that snake get the memo? Those pussies bite back. And they do. Suddenly, a gun-wielding member of the female empowerment group readies to fire at the invading snake, her arm shaking, and the group vibrating around her with screams and caustic tension.We have a war of words and wills, layers of white guilt, performative intersectionality, conflict resolution confusion, and a heated and hilarious stand off with a wild animal. Delicious.


Weird is cool, but she's definitely a little more than weird about empowering women her own way. Whoops. It happens.


#3. It hits a vulnerable part within yourself you shouldn't shame.


When The Guy is thrown off his bike by a heartless therapist jumping into his path to avoid her weeping patient after hours, he lands in the hospital with a broken arm and a yawning gap in his social calendar, usually packed with deliveries.


Through The Guy, we examine an age-old musing--do people want us only if we can give them something in return?

The answer, in his case, is often an irksome yes. We explore the loneliness of being alive--what do I want, how far will I go, what evasions and lies can I permit within myself--through the lens of a stunted stoner who successfully pays his bills and knows how to have fun, but doesn’t know if he’s happy or not. Ouch. That hurts.


It also feels really good to explore sadness without needing to be sad about it.


WHY TO SKIP IT:


#1. If you judge stoners, this piece isn’t for you.


Also, maybe examine that and relax a bit.

1930's Reefer Madness propaganda got you down? Get yourself on higher ground.


#2. If you need action, look elsewhere.


If you need high stakes action and linking chains of cause and effect on your tv, you’re barking up the wrong series.


#3. If you want to see a “realistic” New York, you might want to pass the dutchie.


This Brooklyn is full of warm, loving eye contact, understanding parents, elastic security guards who look the other way, and implausibly irresponsible hospital staff who do not notice The Guy’s many deep puffs on his vape pen from his sick bed. Strangers volley a red party balloon across a crowded subway car. If you’re looking for your New York, and that New York is a grey space of alienation/cautious, curious dissociation, this isn’t your New York. It’s blurry and bright, easygoing, lost, lazy, and luxuriating, quick to concern itself with forgiveness and homeostasis. It’s as high as The Guy.



#4. It’s easy to adopt as background noise. It requires almost nothing of you, the viewer. (Pro or Con depending on you.)


The un-frenetic Brooklyn herein is a world you can live in alongside your own. You can talk over the Helen Hunt movie marathons portrayed and even blow past the extended threesome sequences, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT THE SHOW DOESN’T NEED YOU TO REMEMBER.


Like any forgiving stoner, you can flow into its space and out of it, a lax and loving collaborator. That means you can miss beats, skip episodes, not fully understand characters, and marinate through bizarre moments with no pressure to deduce, decide, or determine meaning. The show's meaning flows and ebbs with your attention span. If you’re currently looking for a higher urgency relationship to your small screen stories, save High Maintenance for later.


******************************************************************************************************************


Show creators confirmed this January that there will not be a High Maintenance Season 5 on HBO while Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair explore other project cravings. I have tons of compassion for that. They’ve been working on the web series since 2009, and if I need my fix for more, I can always go back and explore that treasure trove.


Why get High Maintenance on your tv?


High Maintenance encourages emotionality without requiring its viewers immense involvement. It asks you to see the world around you with idealistic voyeurism. It's a show that watches and wonders right along with its viewership. A pleasure puzzle, handed to you without all the pieces in the box.

And frankly, it's an inspiring show that makes you think about your own life in a non-selfish way. Catalyzing me to end this piece with . . .


A SOCIAL INTIMACY FANTASY FOR THE FUTURE:


We’re all lonely after this weird year. Let's get High Maintenance behavioral models in action as we re-socialize.


So, when we can interact with strangers again (hopefully v. soon), let’s ask of them--nothing. Instead, let’s choose to care about them. Let’s be interested in their lives without requiring every detail. Let's help. Let's deliver. Let's respect boundaries. And if it comes to us, let's volley back the party balloon in their direction across the crowded subway car, just to see them smile.



What's your favorite service-industry show? Comment below!

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