For many of us, the debut of stoner dramedy High Maintenance on Sky Atlantic (Thursdays, 10pm) marks the beginning of the show’s first season. Yet, as long terms fans of the show will know, the New York-set series is actually in its seventh year having started out as a plucky web series of Vimeo way back in 2012. And while you might expect the show’s move to traditional television to be a positive one, for many it has raised an uncomfortable question: can the show maintain it’s addictive intimacy and DIY sensibility now it’s firmly part of the media ‘mainstream’?
Those fans can inhale deeply and puff a huge sigh of relief: High Maintenance remains a poignant, sharply observed wave of presentational comedy that’s unlike anything else on TV right now.
Ostensibly, the show follows the highs and lows of laid-back pot dealer The Guy (played by Ben Sinclair, and co-created the series with wife Katja Blichfeld) as he makes the rounds between his array of unconventional customers. In fact, The Guy is merely the connective tissue between a set of disparate vignettes which peek into the eccentric lives of New York’s most idiosyncratic habitants.
There’s best friends Max and Lainey, whose highly dysfunctional relationship beings to falter when Max discovers a new group of friends; Eesha, a college girl living in Brooklyn who’s struggling to balance her vices with her family’s stringent religious values; and there’s a seemingly boring couple whose intimate dinner party quickly spirals out of control.
Each episode deftly walks the fine line between comedy and tragedy with much of the humour coming from the bizarre characters and strange situations Sinclair and Blichfield have conjured. Yet, their depiction of Brooklyn bohemia never feels offensive or judgemental, largely because they strive to show the best and worst of everyone’s personalities. That includes The Guy, who is as likely to be seen helping a group of girls carry a heavy barrel down a flight of stairs as he is to trying to park his bike on the site of a little girl’s memorial.
Crucially, the new episodes can be enjoyed by both newcomers and long term viewers alike. Each story exists in its own isolated bubble, making it easy to dip in and out of episodes without feeling out of the loop, but there are also just enough in-jokes and callbacks to previous stories – Max will be familiar as the guy saved as ‘Asshole’ in The Guy’s phone after he stole a bag of weed – to please fans of the web series.
Despite the doubters fretting over whether this series could survive the leap to TV sets, High Maintenance has succeeded in remaining a pure, unconventional shot of deft character studies, gentle observations and inventive performances. This viewer, for one, will be coming back for another hit.