Despite the consistent presence of weed, High Maintenance is not a stoner comedy. In fact — and this is a good thing — it’s a little hard to pin down exactly what the series is: Is it a comedic drama about the eccentric, pot-smoking personalities scattered throughout New York City? Is it an anthology meant to proselytize the importance of being high? Is it a study of one man, a hash-happy hero, who satisfies the marijuana-hungry masses?
It’s not quite any of those. Created as a web series in 2012 by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, the show follows an unnamed pot dealer, known as “The Guy” (Sinclair), who bikes through the city, delivering his goods to customers who all have their own reasons for needing a hazy pick-me-up. That simple, quirky premise made the show a critically acclaimed gem online — and in its move to HBO (and by default, stretching their 5-ish minute web eps to a half-hour timeslot), High Maintenance doesn’t lose its buzz.
It’s all thanks to the characters Blichfeld and Sinclair have chosen to observe. Each of the six episodes offers a peek into the lives of two or three of The Guy’s contacts — some, like Greta Lee’s Heidi, first appeared in the webseries — and the pair have mined laughs, tears, and sometimes even profound musings from the slice-of-life vignettes they present. In one, a man hilariously joins a meth support group to escape an overbearing friend. In another, a young woman tries to balance her family’s conservative values with her itch for freedom. Sometimes, the episode’s star isn’t even human: One particularly affecting installment follows a dog. To say more would spoil the surprise.
And there are plenty of surprises in these brief portraits. Though the made-in-New-York stories can at times come across as too earnest or even too short (I want to know more about a lonely writer who tries to make a connection in the latter half of the season), Blichfeld and Sinclair find what makes every character tick, and why every one of these customers needs to light a joint. There’s joy in seeing how they connect through weed and in seeing a litany of guest stars (Hannibal Buress, Dan Stevens, and Yael Stone) take turns in the spotlight. And, if there’s a throughline to the six installments aside from The Guy’s stash of cannabis, it’s the tongue-in-cheek jabs at NYC living. (Keep an eye out for adult coloring books, the set of Girls, and — sigh — vaping.) In other words, this is what High Maintenance is: An intimate show deeply curious about its characters that hits — apologies in advance for this — just the right high. A–