How excited are you about the return of “High Maintenance” to your Vimeo screen?
For those not in the know, “High Maintenance” is Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair’s brilliantly minimalist web series about a guy (named The Guy) delivering weed in New York City. The show’s episodes, which last roughly 4-6 minutes apiece, are sharply written and acted portraits of the selec eccentrics The Guy comes into contact with on an average day.
The stories within belong to those ordering the weed, not The Guy (played by Sinclair, who often comes off as a younger, more brazen Paul Giamatti character). Have a look at “HM’s” second episode “Heidi,” which is especially fierce and will give you a distinct look at the series’ singular personality and appeal.
Well now that “High Maintenance” has returned for a second season on Vimeo, some smart stories have been written about the show, about its captivating star and co-stars, about its too-cool creative team (“30 Rock” credits?) and about its unique deal with Vimeo.
Here are five of those stories you should read right now:
1. Grantland’s “Contact High,” by Amos Barshad
The series was originally conceived as a cross between a calling card and an art project. Sinclair was a struggling actor fed up with playing derelicts on Law & Order: SVU; for extra cash, he’d edit bat mitzvah videos. Blichfeld, long the primary breadwinner, was an Emmy-winning casting director for 30 Rock who harbored dreams of writing and directing. They wanted to work on something together.
The parameters of their creation are modest. In every episode, The Guy takes us into the homes of weed-loving strangers embroiled in dramatic minutiae in New York City. The episodes are microscopic: Most wrap before crossing the 10-minute mark. The sets are the claustrophobic apartments of the manic people who have made the decision to live in this city.
As The Guy meets and greets the one-off characters — the creatively blocked cross-dresser, the PTSD-suffering comedian, the asexual magician — he becomes a kind of benevolent spirit. The Guy is the through line connecting this collection of damaged, lonely people. Using the same traits that once typecast him as a possibly murderous drifter — artfully mussed male-pattern baldness, that bushy beard — Sinclair has become the type of guy to whom you’d want to unburden yourself.
2. NPR’s “Despite The Dope, ‘High Maintenance’ Is About More Than Potheads,” by Elizabeth Blair
Somehow it’s fitting that the creators, Katja Blichfeld and her husband, Ben Sinclair, can’t remember exactly when they came up with the idea for High Maintenance. “Y’know, the exact eureka moment is yet to be remembered,” says Sinclair, who also plays the pot dealer.
“I have a vague recollection of being on a bike in a bike lane in south Williamsburg,” Blichfeld says, referring to the Brooklyn neighborhood. “Totally sober,” she adds.
They claim their process is disorganized, but there is no narrative clutter in the structure of High Maintenance. Blichfeld says she learned the economy of storytelling during her stint as a casting director for 30 Rock — work for which she won an Emmy. Sinclair is an actor and a film editor.
3. Slate’s “Green, Green Grass of Home,” by Willa Paskin
In some other era, The Guy would have been the milkman, the postman, the handy man, or some other deliverer of benign, essential services. Sinclair is tall and rangy, with a receding hairline, and until he opens his mouth he has a slightly menacing look that would probably serve a drug dealer well. (According to his IMDB credits, he has previously played such characters as “Wild Eyed Guy,” “Brooklyn Idiot,” and “Homeless Guy.” No wonder he wanted to create his own project.) But as with so many characters on High Maintenance, appearances are deceiving, and The Guy is warm and observant, with the comforting, non-judgmental vibe that turns so many of his customers into regulars.
Those regulars are distinctive and hilarious. High Maintenance may be a show about dedicated stoners, but it does not have a stoner aesthetic. It is sharp and quick and so coolly observant that it can become satirical, as when a B.S.-spewing home chef whips up some bacon-infused matzo balls for a farm-to-table Seder. Sinclair and Blichfeld have amazing ears for the absurdities of personality in general and bourgeois Brooklyn in particular. Each episode opens with a skewering and often very funny oh-god-I-think-I-know-that-person character-establishing sequence that with startling economy creates such specific archetypes as the lonely shut-in caring for his ill mother and the cross-dressing stay-at-home dad.
4. Wired’s “Why Vimeo Funded a Show About a Weed Dealer,” by Liz Stinson
High Maintenance was a safe bet for Vimeo’s first foray into original programming: It came with an established fan base, which makes it a much less risky development prospect than building a show from the ground up. Blichfeld and and Sinclar made the first episode in 2012, mostly as a way to work with each other and showcase their friends’ talent. When they started, Blichfeld had a day job in casting and Sinclair was an actor and film editor. “I really thought I would just be casting for my whole life,” says Blichfeld. “And I was trying to start a composting company,” Sinclair adds. “But this thing ended up happening instead.”
Early episodes were brief snapshots of Sinclair’s encounters with customers. You never learn the dealer’s name, but you get an intimate (and often funny) look at the lives of the people he’s selling to. A great early episode focuses on a homeless girl who mooches money and food—and, yes weed—from prospective love interests. But it can skew melancholy at times. For all its excellent comic timing, High Maintenance doesn’t shy away from highlighting the inherent loneliness of humans. And that’s the beauty of the show—the characters you see on screen mirror the complex, neurotic, but ultimately lovable, people in our own lives.
5. Vulture’s “More Munchies: High Maintenance, Everyone’s Favorite Marijuana Procedural, Returns,” by Molly Young
High Maintenance may also be the first indie web series that could plausibly launch its own genre. The premise of the show is simple: A weed dealer bikes around the city delivering to customers. As with emergency-room medicine and organized crime, the world of weed delivery lends itself beautifully to dramatization—there’s voyeurism, jargon, journeys across the spectrum of human need. Sinclair plays the nameless pot-dealing angel of mercy. Among the tokers introduced in season one are a cult member, a Helen Hunt–obsessed recluse, a cross-dressing dad (played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens), and a traumatized stand-up comic (played by Hannibal Buress). Episodes can be nibbled à la carte or swallowed whole in one sitting. Together they add up to less than two hours.
When the Vimeo deal was announced in May, it represented the company’s first foray into original programming. Vimeo had already established a service where filmmakers could set a viewing price and take 90 percent of the proceeds; Kerry Trainor, the company’s CEO, says it was just a natural step toward advancing some money to High Maintenance, a show he thinks “shows off everything we think Vimeo is in the world to do.” For Blichfeld and Sinclair, who glued together season one of High Maintenance with their own funds and through favors from friends, it represented an ideal way to keep a good thing going. Vimeo has been an extremely hands-off partner: “That’s the coolest thing about being here,” Sinclair says. “They haven’t even read a single script. They haven’t asked.”