Imagine a Things to Experience Stoned Hall of Fame. The hall is expansive, with many corridors, and paintings and statues depicting skiing in the Alps. Now imagine the film and television wing. Visitors would gaze on bronzed copies of Reefer Madness, watch The Wizard of Oz synced with Dark Side of the Moon, or peruse more modern classics like Friday and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
High Maintenance will one day be enshrined in this imaginary hall as the first great player in a new era of the game.
High Maintenance centers on the Guy, an affable weed courier who takes calls on his earbuds and delivers baggies of bud within an hour across Brooklyn. Each episode revolves around one of his customers. It was created by husband-and-wife duo Ben Sinclair (the Guy) and Katja Blichfeld and debuted in 2012 on Vimeo, finding its voice as a web series over six seasons. The eight-minute episodes garnered enough acclaim for the show to be picked up by HBO, which started airing the new season Sept. 16, with episodes running 30 minutes.
If you've been a fan of this column since it debuted three years ago, you owe it to yourself to stream the entire series, which dramatizes the mainstreaming of cannabis and its effects on society—two things we've hoped to shine a light on here. High Maintenance is, basically, what we're going for. It manages to tie together everything happening in cannabis right now—I even saw parallels in a recent New York magazine story on "presence" in our digital haze in which Andrew Sullivan credits cannabis's recent rise in credibility for its status as "self-medication for an era of mass distraction."
High Maintenance, especially the early episodes, presents a quick-hitting cross section of New Yorkers. The Guy's deliveries involve a guy in his early 20s in love with a homeless girl, a comedian traumatized by violence, a metaphysical life-hacker, an eventful Seder meal, rookie tokers tripping on one hit, and an asexual schoolteacher. There's genuine stoner comedy, as when the Guy innovatively attacks a man in padded armor in front of a crowd of screaming women as the credits roll, or when a freaked-out, middle-aged woman believes there's an invisible box on her head. One dabber tells his severely burned gaming buddy: "I think it looks better, but I think I'm also just saying that 'cause I know you don't have health insurance."
With the show's move to HBO, there were concerns the DIY ethos of the web series would be dulled by network oversight. Happily, HBO's production has left room for one of the show's great strengths: a fluidity of style that adapts each story to the life of its subject.
In the HBO premiere, the Guy weathers assaults on his masculinity from a Vin Diesel type and a Russian barber. The second episode centers on Eesha, a Muslim girl looking for a score to help with studying, a character I identified with as much as any other in the series. High Maintenance reaches its greatest heights in depicting the unique humanity of each character. Each client is rooted in reality, dosed with the peculiar pathos of city life. Some run about on wires of anxiety, others are mired in codependency and depression, and some suffer from grave illness. Painful secrets are unveiled. Characters reappear and are revealed in more depth.
Throughout the show, we see weed's benefits and drawbacks, a depiction of real people seeking comfort in the midst of it all. The Guy and his product offer a thread of connection, and maybe a little solace.
High Maintenance is exactly the show this era of cannabis needs, and it's a sure-fire, first-ballot hall-of-famer.