During the past few years, we’ve seen increasing success of internet-based shows. Yes, providers such as Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix are thriving off of their original series’, but independent productions have been proving the “Kevin Smith Dream” can be achieved. Remember Kevin Smith? He produced, directed, edited, starred in, and wrote his own indie movie, Clerks, then received backing by major studios for his follow up work. That’s the goal.
High Maintenance achieved said goal, having begun on Vimeo (YouTube for industry folk), then getting picked up by HBO (TV for rich folk). Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, the creators of the show, weren’t exactly newcomers, though. Blichfeld had been a well-respected casting director with access to a wealth of talent in New York. That kind of leg up makes all the difference in this world.
Let’s see if High Maintenance is worthy of its buzz.
Each episode brings in new characters and there are too many recurring characters to list in this modest article, save for one constant called “The Guy” (Ben Sinclair).
The Guy connects each story as, well, a connect. He bikes around the city, delivering weed (and sometimes mushrooms) to select denizens of the urban jungle. While he’s not always a participant in the story we see, he can usually be seen as a moral paragon—almost antithetical of the drug dealer archetype.
When he is a major player in the plot, we’re delighted to find he’s a genuinely good person. He has strict business ethics that we can approve of, while knowing when to bend—or hold fast—to a rule. He draws sincere empathy from the audience when he gets wrapped up in a situation his own kindness caused. The Guy is the glue that holds High Maintenance together.
Another story built upon the geography of the world’s largest apple, High Maintenance could be defined, thematically, by its setting: New York.
Since the show has been picked up by a major network, the creators have shifted their focus from personal problems to issues of global importance. Racism and cultural inequality could possibly be the most prevalent issue to tackle, and they tackle it. But not head-on. Maybe tackle isn’t the right word; they gently nudge the topic, while brushing by it on the street. Or they might softly whisper to the issue in the library, indirectly flirting with confrontation.
Drug use and sale might seem like a major ingredient to the show, but in reality it’s little more than a garnish: obvious on the surface, but quickly brushed aside as commonplace occurrence. It can’t help itself from commenting on the day-to-day of New Yorker life.
Ultimately High Maintenance attempts to put a common emotion (e.g. love, pain, futility, happiness) in an uncommon perspective. Much of the time, the series explores the very tenants of what it means to be a person; each episode extracts and observes a different molecule of humanity. And it tries to entertain, in the process.
As I felt it was my duty, I heavily researched the show by watching the entirety of the Vimeo series. I loved it. I watched the birth of an original idea; I watched that idea find its legs and learn to walk, as it morphed from comedy to drama; I watched the idea gain its first celebrity appearance, as it gave Hannibal Burress his dramatic role. And they did this all in less than twenty minutes an episode.
Any idea is bound to suffer some growth pains as it transitions from a ten minute format to an hour long format. It wouldn’t be fair to compare a short film to a feature length film, and the same standards apply to television. The shorter format worked, though. It blended comedy and drama to the point that, while each emotion was evoked separately, they were wrought without intermission or hesitation.
The HBO series has more time, space, and filler. The writing dynamic has changed. The personnel involved has grown into a beastly affair. While I still hold faith in the overall theme and direction of High Maintenance, the near-montage rhythm of dialog to action that the creators found necessary to cram so much into such a small amount of time is no more. High Maintenance now focuses on slight silences and pregnant pauses between words—dramatic beats—to create mood and tension. It’s an adjustment, and I prefer the former.
Season 1 will end with multiple characters converging on a single plot line.
High Maintenance ends with a day in the life of “The Guy” and we discover his name.
High Maintenance has been fascinating. I found myself swinging through many highs and lows while binge-watching the entirety of the series. This is, of course, the Vimeo series.
The HBO series, like the Vimeo series did, has to find its legs. High Maintenance must learn a rhythm that satisfies its new time format. I want to see this series succeed: multiple seasons, high ratings, Emmy awards, the works. This show is by no means terrible. High Maintenance loosely grasps most of the qualities I look for in a series. But the Kevin Smith Dream isn’t much of an accomplishment if we can’t show the system that we can make our own TV.
Yes, there are plenty of shows getting picked up from the internet right now, and plenty of people, too. It seems silly to pin my hopes to a single show while we’re still in the early stages of what will become a revolution, but I’m eager to get this party started. So, please High Maintenance, do more than maintain: elevate.
If you’re interested in the series, High Maintenance airs Fridays on HBO. If you’d like to see what else Cody is watching, you can check his Trakt page to keep up-to-date with all of his shows.