When I first discovered the web series on Vimeo in 2012, I was immediately transported back to my hot mess of a self as a 20-something publicist in New York City. After a standard 12-plus hours in an office dealing with fashion- and beauty-industry divas, a lot of my days were only made brighter when I got a text back from “Jeff” confirming he was en route to my apartment (shout out to 7A). We shot the shit. We smoked. I gifted him Johnson & Johnson baby products from the agency supply closet on the regular.
“Jeff” and I were together for five years.
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Every one of “High Maintenance’s” abbreviated 19 original episodes, which follow a Brooklyn pot dealer, so perfectly captures the cannabis culture ingrained in the city. It appears in the show, just as it was in 2004 when I arrived, a very normal and often necessary part of dealing with the daily grind. Although the codewords always differ — his is “maintenance,” mine was “swordfish” — “The Guy” is every New Yorker’s “Jeff.”
With the first of six new half-hour episodes set to debut on HBO on Friday (Sept. 16 at 11 p.m. ET/PT), the show stars Ben Sinclair as “The Guy,” who created and wrote the series with his wife Katja Blichfeld (who also appears on screen — decked in Rachel Comey, natch).
Expanding stories from the maximum 12 minutes seen on the web to a full half-hour for the network results in an even deeper and more cinematic exposé into the private lives of the kaleidoscope of characters portrayed in each episode. The comical and quick studies earned Sinclair and Blichfeld a Writers Guild Award in 2015 and let the audience in on the struggles of everyday people, while smartly interweaving issues of politics, race, gender and class.
I caught up with the super-cool creative team via phone on Monday in a group interview, to which Sinclair gave the disclaimer, “The more we talk about weed, the more the show becomes about weed and the further we’re getting away from the core of the show, which is about people.”
But since weed is clearly our jam here at The Cannabist, thanks for indulging me, guys.
The Cannabist: In one of the “Maintaining” sessions (the HBO-produced Q&As ahead of all 19 original web episodes), you said that you hoped the series would change the perception of pot smokers. How has that changed your creative direction over the years as more and more states legalize?
Ben Sinclair: There is no common profile of a pot smoker. There’s so many people that smoke that you would never think do (smoke pot).
Katja Blichfeld: Right? It’s like, “Is there a profile of a wine drinker?” It wasn’t really our goal, but in creating something together, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if it was a show where people were just chill and real about weed?” Even the idea of the weed delivery guy wasn’t an explicit goal when we started — it was about normalizing all kinds of behaviors and embracing that. It’s one of the reasons that we moved from suburbia of the west to New York City.
Sinclair: And it’s really about how we could tell the most interesting stories. When we got to HBO — we haven’t had to adapt creatively to the changes, really, because it’s still illegal here. And our guiding hand has always just been about telling the most interesting stories — about all kinds of weird behaviors, but making them perceived as normal.
Cannabist: What’s the role of cannabis in your creative process?
Sinclair: It’s expansive. It provides us with what we need to wander into stories and situations we wouldn’t have normally thought of. Sometimes we’ll think, “What’s the most obvious thing that can happen in this story? Let’s not do that.” Then we’ll smoke some pot and think of the weirdest situation possible.
Blichfeld: It depends on the mood, and it’s not a secret that we use pot for medication purposes. Look, we’re really emotional people, who live in a crowded city, working like crazy, and life happens. Sometimes it’s hard to get through the day, so it’s a tool to level out and maintain.
Cannabist: Is “The Guy” based on your guy IRL?
Sinclair: He’s based on a combination of dealers … a variety pack of who we use. Sometimes, they know who we are from the show and that’s a funny thing. For us, that’s the wonderful part about this show — they feel like they know us, so they’re more willing to open up to us and share their crazy stories. We had a dealer come over who just broke down crying .. telling us all this personal shit. So we’re in such a lucky position.
Cannabist: Is “The Guy” afraid of big corporate weed?
Sinclair: It’s hard to say … We haven’t started writing the new season yet, but we’re always on the side of the little guy. And we probably won’t even touch it until we absolutely have to. The five dispensaries that are open in New York … they’re a fucking joke. It’s going to take a fucking while over here!
Cannabist: Where do you hope to see the marijuana landscape in five years?
Sinclair: We just hope that no one is getting arrested for having weed on them. And for people to stop having their lives ruined because they are engaging with a plant that grows naturally and abundantly that has no long-term health affects. But we’re really not keen on having a political bent here — otherwise, fuck! That’s a different show about weed. Our show is about people.
Blichfeld: Free and easy access for everybody. When you see how much money there is to be made and where it can go to support things like education, it’s honestly so crazy that we’re having this legalization conversation still.