High Maintenance is not really a show about weed. Yes, weed is smoked. Yes, a dad-bod dealer (known only as The Guy) rides a bike from borough to borough in New York City, selling his wares to a stable of loyal clients. Yes, we see all manner of smoking apparatus. But High Maintenance is first and foremost a compilation of character sketches.
In this way, weed is actually a gateway drug, in that the show opens windows into the complicated, mesmerizing lives of city dwellers who are young, old, religious, rebellious, poor, rich, sad, and just figuring it all out.
The show was first developed as a web series in 2012 by husband-and-wife team Ben Sinclair (who plays The Guy) and Katja Blichfield. It was free to watch, available on Vimeo, and the episodes were only about 12 minutes long. Eventually it built such a large following that Sinclair and Blichfield began casting more and more notable names, including Dan Stevens and Hannibal Burress.
Tonight, High Maintenance premieres on HBO with a short season of six 30-minute episodes. While every episode includes The Guy, he is far from the protagonist of High Maintenance. But he is the show's best narrative device. Every visit he makes to a client opens a path to another story line, even if he barely comes into contact with the people who inhabit these subplots.
When The Guy stops at the home of a well-off young couple who have allowed the wife's recently retired father to move in with them, he offers to take the family's recycling on his way out. After The Guy drops it outside, the bag is then picked up by an aging Chinese man, who is shown collecting recycling with his wife.
The episode then splits into two story lines. In one, the Chinese couple struggle to relate to their son, a musical prodigy whom they raised in the States and who is now a successful experimental musician. In the other, the young couple adjust to living with the wife's father, who attends morning raves in an effort to redeem what he sees as an uneventful life.
The beloved original web series has evolved into something even funnier, but with a more tender backbone. When a character suffers, the ache lingers after the episode is over. When the show is humorous, it's because the writing has landed on some banal detail of daily millennial life (obsessive selfies, a freak-out over a ruined high-end tea kettle) and ripped it open to expose its absurdity.
"I just kind of bike around, and people call me, and I bring 'em weed, pretty much. That's kind of all there is to it," The Guy tells a young writer in the show's fifth episode. But that's not true. There's so much more.
Reacquaint yourself with The Guy and his neurotic clientele when High Maintenance comes to HBO, tonight at 11 p.m. For more information, visit hbo.com.