High Maintenance

I have been watching the HBO show “High Maintenance.” Its effects are difficult to pin down, and that is part of its charm and aim. You feel off balance when you are watching it. Your focus shifts. You are not sure what you are looking at and what you are being shown. Richard remarked, “The style of the show produces the feeling of being stoned on pot.” Style holds the show together as well as several other elements, chiefly the central character, called “the Guy,” who deals pot and edibles on his bicycle to customers in his home turf of Brooklyn. It is a soft-edged, high-hazed shaggy Brooklyn of graffiti art and sub cultures bleeding into each other. One episode entered the world of pot-smoking orthodox Jews. (They speak Yiddish, and I felt a pang for the kitchen banter of my mother and grandmother. I could understand much of it!!) The Guy (Ben Sinclair, one of the creators of the show with Katja Blichfield), is the candyman who arrives with his metal-corned little suitcase. My favorite aspect of the show is the way it substitutes character for plot. It is interested in watching people be themselves, not in their arriving anywhere. Usually each episode brings us into the apartment of one of the Guy’s customers. We enter the scene before he does. He’s a Rosencranz or Gildenstern, dropping into a drama-in-progress he has to piece together. In media rez is the method of the show, and it feels like going on a long walk without a destination, a walk for its own sake. In one episode a friend suggests a partnership that would involve meeting customers in a car, and the Guy declines the offer saying, “But then we wouldn’t see the apartments.” Sadness or melancholy or vague yearning hovers over the show. Happiness almost always requires a drug. Life without it is hard to bear, and this seems especially apt during the past 18 months of shared helplessness. The first episode of Season 2 takes place on the day after the election. It isn’t named, the way the Guy isn’t named. The characters wake up to an apocalyptic upheaval, the big one, the beginning of the end. The Guy is getting on in years, nearing his late 30s, and he’s still dealing pot, as he did in college. What does he want? Does he need to want something other than what he has? Is he bored by the repetition of his routines? He is wary of involvement, yet he becomes involved. He helps one customer who is agoraphobic leave his apartment. He helps a pregnant woman get a ride to the hospital. He listens to people. Above all, he isn’t judgy. It appears to be his temperament and his offering. He wants to stay in one piece by the end of the day, which isn’t always possible. In one episode he’s robbed, in other knocked off his bike. His arm is broken, and he’s homebound for a while. He stays stoned almost all the time. The most recent episode centered on a teenaged girl, the daughter of a woman still dining out on her East Village sexual conquests of the ’90s. It’s the daughter’s birthday, and three of her female friends spend the night in her house, drinking and using drugs paid for by her mother. They dance. One girl gives another a tattoo. They smoke and one girl passes out. The camera lovingly follows the birthday girl, who finds herself often in the role of cleaning up after people. She is sad and also yearning for something. She draws, alone in her room. Late at night she slices a large piece from an uneaten birthday cake. Later, she serves it to a blond woman her mother’s age who is visiting from a Scandinavian country. In a surreal and beautiful moment, the girl kisses the blond woman passionately, and the woman responds. They stop shortly and go their separate ways in the house. It is a large event and a mysterious event that does not bring resolution but moves us.

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