How a show about a cycling weed dealer became a master class on character-driven TV

Promotional image for 'High Maintenance' via HBO

Promotional image for ‘High Maintenance’ via HBO

Allow HBO’s ‘High Maintenance’ to light up your world

By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager

 

Drugs make for entertaining television.

Way back, in the long-ago time of 2005, Weeds introduced us to the tragically-comedic Nancy Botwin, a suburban widow who—gasp—also deals pot. A few years later, Breaking Bad blew onto the scene and set a new bar for gritty, antihero-driven dramas. More recently, you have Netflix’s Narcos, which has given us the based-on-real-events story of Pablo Escobar—and more importantly, dat moustache.

However, most drug-related programming, sooner or later, tends to lean heavily into the dramatic side of things: Drug deals gone horribly wrong, gang violence, guns, betrayals over millions of dollars, more guns, showdowns in the desert, did I mention guns?

That’s why High Maintenance is such a refreshing piece of drug-based television.

Originally a web series from 2012 to 2015, High Maintenance made the jump to HBO in 2016 and has enjoyed two brief, wonderful seasons since.

The first six-episode season introduces us to “The Guy,” played by series co-creator Ben Sinclair, a bike-pedaling pot peddler who embodies the opposite of most pop culture drug dealers. He’s friendly and personable, but he’s also a background character. Instead, High Maintenance shifts the focus on new, different characters every episode, who then interact with The Guy at some point by buying weed from him.

In an interview with Splitsider, Sinclair mentions how the series started as a way to compare weed smokers from Los Angles to the weed smokers of New York: “We thought we could do it in a way that actually showed adult New Yorkers who are dealing with the city. We feel that people in New York smoke for many different reasons, whether it’s a city stress or they just like to smoke because it keeps them alive in different ways.” The emphasis is on telling organic, believable stories about realistic characters who just happen to also occasionally smoke weed.

Where the show really succeeds is in the expanded 10-episode second season, where we also delve more into The Guy’s personal life. In the premiere, we’re introduced to his relationship/non-relationship with a cute Australian bartender. In another episode, The Guy talks about his current living situation with clients-turned-friends. In the season’s best episode, he winds up confined to a hospital bed with nothing but a vape pen to keep him company—until the hospital calls his most recent emergency contact, his soon-to-be-ex-wife. All of these bits and pieces slowly help build together The Guy’s life for the viewers, while still juggling the stories of other single-episode characters.

High Maintenance is a show about smaller moments. The moments shared between a weed dealer and his agoraphobic client, who doesn’t even smoke but has spent years buying pot just to have the brief interactions with The Guy. One episode even centres on a dog whose owners are undergoing a separation and who embarks on his own romance with a high-energy dog walker. There’s no grand story arc, no endgame that High Maintenance is working towards, and it plays out beautifully.

Admittedly, this slice-of-life storytelling can sometimes feel too unambitious when an episode’s moments fall flat or fail to produce any meaningful resolutions for the characters. Yet, more often than not, it’s heartwarming, thoughtful, surreal, and more hilarious than it has any right to be.

 

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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