If you’re a Gen Yer who consciously resents being labeled a “Millennial” (because Millennials are anyone younger or needier than you), then you’ve probably encountered the popular web series High Maintenance. If you also lived in Brooklyn at any point between 2012 and 2015, then you definitely encountered this series’ polished, portrait-style webisodes. You might even have noticed the show’s co-creator and star, Ben Sinclair, on the train a few times, because living among the forces behind your favorite creative works is the special, integrative magic of Brooklyn that almost makes the living conditions worthwhile.
The show takes a seemingly thin concept and, through the sheer quality of its storytelling, turns out something new and exceptional. Ben Sinclair plays “the guy,” an unnamed, bearded, 30-something hipster who delivers weed on his bicycle. That’s essentially all we know – and all we need to know — about his character; only a single, incongruous episode of the web series ever delved any deeper into the guy’s personal life by introducing his visiting-then-vanishing niece. Because the show’s main focus is the surprising lives of the guy’s customers, not the guy himself, the camera never lingers on this central but least important character for too long.
In a less ambitious show, the narrative would follow the life of the drug dealer and their efforts to avoid the police or to protect their loved ones. It’s the traditional model an audience expects, and if that’s what you’re most interested in, then Weeds is the show for you. But as that title’s creator Jenji Kohan learned midway through her followup hit, Orange is the New Black, the life of a traditional character who only dabbles in the underground is not nearly so intriguing as the lives of those they meet along the way. High Maintenance skips straight to the varied experiences of those elevated secondary characters: it’s heavy on character-building and purposefully light on overarching plot.
In the web series, memorable customers ranged from cancer patients in remission struggling with the effects of chemotherapy to Millennials in Bushwick struggling with the effects of toxic friendship. In the show’s television premiere, one of those pairs makes a welcome return. There’s something superbly human about the performances, and the expectation that certain customers may reappear and interact from time to time prevents this East River anthology from feeling too disconnected.
Overall, High Maintenance might be the most distinctive new series to debut this fall. Without special effects, gratuitous nudity (though niche film star Colby Keller makes a startling cameo), or even a plot to speak of, it’s unlike anything else in HBO’s stable, except that it’s every bit as good as everything else on the channel.