High Maintenance: An Empathetic Anthology

Photo: HBO

Photo: HBO

HBO’s “High Maintenance” offers snapshots into the lives of New Yorkers from all different walks of life. Each episode fluctuating between two to three narratives all grounded in the character: The Guy, played by Ben Sinclair, the friendly neighborhood pot dealer. While the premise of focalizing into the different lives of clients of a pot dealer may seem absurd, more akin to Seth Rogan’s drug fueled narratives, “High Maintenance” defies its own description. It turns one dimensional tropes about the millennial age clientele  of “The Guy” into sharp, witty, multi-faceted representations.                        

Where other shows that feel manufactured, with comedic characters that are always “on” and drama that exists for just of the sake of existing, “High Maintenance” operates subtly with a distinct observational, non- judgmental lens. In the episode “Fagin” (Season 2, Episode 2) the audience follows two narratives introduced by “The Guy.” One thread follows a middle aged interracial couple that come to New York to visit their daughter. It illustrates their good-natured maneuvering of the hip, urban lifestyle their daughter is immersing them in even if they don’t understand it themselves; from being set up in an Airbnb loft with a cobra named Fagin to eating smaller portions at a high end restaurant, what comes across is their unconditional support of their daughter.  

The other narrative in the episode follows a predominantly white feminist discussion group. The hostess, worried at their lack of diversity, begins to invite acquaintances of color from Instagram. Meanwhile the discussion of the group mirrors familiar dialogue of “needing men as allies” and how one woman discusses how she feels since the paradigm has shifted post-election that entitles her to have a gun. One woman analyzes the implication of a guest giving her half-black daughter a black doll, the concern that the gift implies she isn’t doing enough to connect her daughter to her African roots. Hilarity ensues when The Guy comes to drop off weed and is told remain in the background,  the hostesses not wanting a cis white man to take up too much space and disrupt the feminine energy in the apartment.

The power behind “High Maintenance” is the emotional distance put between the audience and the story through the rotation of characters. This distancing gives the audience the necessary space to explore the multidimensionality of a character because of their limited alloted screen time.  Each episode’s cycle of vignettes creates a web of human connection threaded by “The Guy,” illustrating the universality of an individual's everyday struggle.