High Maintenance creators talk what changed for HBO
The new season debuts Sept. 16
- TV Show
On a recent Tuesday in Los Angeles, Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld were driving down the Sunset Strip to see if High Maintenance‘s new billboard had gone up yet. “We feel very L.A.,” said Blichfeld. “We even bought a car!”
Their excitement is understandable: The NYC-based husband-wife duo’s show is jumping from critically adored web series to proper HBO comedy. High Maintenance stars Sinclair as a bike-riding marijuana delivery guy who visits a different customer each week. We talked to Sinclair and Blichfeld about how they turned an idiosyncratic short-form show into a premium-cable comedy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you go about bringing such a niche show like this to a broader audience without losing its core DNA?
BEN SINCLAIR: The thing is to keep it the same as much as you can while also acknowledging that change is inevitable. Things have to change or it won’t work, so it’s kind of trying to strike the balance between those two things. Katja and I chose to be the only writers and the only directors and keep our hands in the editing room so that we could keep it the same, so that if anyone was like, “Oh, that’s different,” we can be like, “Well, nothing about the way it’s made is really that different on a writing and directing level, so what do you mean?”
KATJA BLICHFELD: Another challenge I think was to scale up and expand but still keep a small enough footprint that we could get into people’s personal apartments instead of building sets and stuff — to be able to go into a restaurant during business hours and shoot in a corner of a restaurant and not disturb anyone. Those are the things we used to do that we wanted to keep being able to do. But with a bigger group of people running around behind us with media carts and cable carts and things like that, that got a little trickier.
Did having a bigger budget and more resources change the way you made the show?
BS: Normally, we’re asking for favors. It was like, “Do this for us for free or don’t do it” — and it was a very easy kind of delineation there. I mean, we had this amount of money, which was way more than we’ve ever had before, but still, compared with other TV shows, we’ve heard it’s a lot less. [Laughs] But you still have to pay full price for things when those three letters are attached to your project.
KB: In the past, people were just like “Oh, you guys are just painting a barn and putting on a show? Let me help and let me donate these things and my services!” Now, it’s definitely more business.
BS: We used to ask everyone for favors, including our crew and our cast, and now they have these jobs and are trying to do the opposite. They were asking us for a favor or trying to impress, which was a different vibe. We had to keep on reminding the people that we’re working together, and this isn’t about getting hired again. This is about having a good time.
What drew you guys to HBO in the first place?
KB: Before we got there, everyone who’s had HBO shows that we talked to would tell us they’re so artist friendly, more or less hands off. We found the same to be true.
The new episodes seem to have a lot more nudity and sex than the web series. Do you feel like you had more freedom to push boundaries on premium cable?
KB: We never portrayed sex [on the web series] — like the act of sex. When we were just doing it for free and not paying people, there was something that felt kind of janky about a non-paying nudity situation. We were a little reticent about writing that into things that ask people to take off their clothes for no money. Once we were able to pay people appropriately — now they’re getting, like, SAG money — it was like, okay, let’s do this. It didn’t feel seedy. It was serving the story.
BS: Although in one Vimeo episode, we did have a really close-up shot of some testicles being dipped into milk. That was pretty graphic!
The HBO episodes are peppered with call-backs and characters from the web series. Was there an effort to reward the old viewers while also attracting new ones?
BS: Well, the difference between what we are doing and what other web-to-TV shows have done is we’re just kind of continuing what we’ve been doing already and treating it all as one work. It’s not a reboot. It’s not the TV show based on the web series High Maintenance…even though it technically kind of is for legal reasons, I think. We were really excited to work with these people again, to not have to recast them, and to continue telling these stories that people seem to like already.
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Ben, your pot-delivery man character is the only constant in the series, but we don’t even know his name. Now that you’re jumping into longer half-hour episodes, will we learn more about his own life?
BS: I know that we’re doing the right thing by not telling people a lot about him because this is one of our most asked questions. It lets us know that we’re letting it out in just the small increments that we need, because he’s supposed to be kind of a surrogate for the audience.
KB: But also, most people don’t know that much about their weed dealer. We thought it would be interesting if you only knew as much about him as the customers. That’s where we started from. Obviously, over time, it was clear that it was a shame to not give anything from the guy’s personal life for the obvious reason that Ben is a charismatic actor and fun to watch, so we just try to sprinkle it in. If we’re leaving people wanting more on that front, it’s a good thing.
High Maintenance premieres Friday at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.