'High Maintenance': TV Review

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
Ben Sinclair as The Guy in HBO's 'High Maintenance'
There's smoke, but is there fire?
9/16/2016

A former web cult series reaches the big leagues at HBO — deservedly so, but possibly weighed down by all of its hipster hype.

If you've never seen but have heard plenty about HBO's newest series, the pot comedy-dramedy-anthology High Maintenance, which kicks off Friday, it's likely that what you know is that a very loyal bunch of fans found it online (Vimeo) and thus are cooler than you are for now watching it on premium cable.

Meaning you're probably hearing about it from people who found it first.

It's the ultimate TV-series-as-indie-rock-band — everybody else saw them (and tons of times, too!) in tiny clubs, and now you're coming around to watch their major-label debut, like an asshat.

That, of course, isn't fair to series creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, who are reaping the benefits of lots of hard work to end up on HBO where, in a world not too long ago before Netflix, everybody wanted to be. It's not their fault that HBO decided to pick up, expand and flesh out the series (and make all the past episodes available for streaming). It's merely a just reward.

But, like anything with a lot of hype — even if the buzz is coming from a pretty small cult audience — some things will get oversold. No, High Maintenance isn't reinventing television or the half-hour. No, you probably won't find it immediately awesome — partly because you're not familiar with a lot of the pre-existing characters others have had time to absorb and embrace over a series of scenes/appearances. Some of those characters will be meshed into new storylines that will be considered a wink to old fans but are, quite honestly, not as seamlessly introduced as maybe everybody imagines.

Also, if you don't live in New York, there are elements you'll probably appreciate less than others or miss entirely.

But High Maintenance certainly landed on HBO for a reason — it's creative, thoughtful and funny enough. Oh and yeah, it's about a weed dealer named The Guy (Sinclair, whose laconic likability makes him the perfect moving chorus to cross from story to story as viewers meet all kinds of new characters in ever-changing arcs), but it's not necessarily a pot comedy. In fact, it's far less about the actual weed than the characters, a welcome strength.

There's also something nice about the breezy shifting of gears in High Maintenance — it's a series that can be about anything and anyone; topics can be serious or ridiculous, introspective or absurd. Yes, some of these characters are recurring for the hipsters who found High Maintenance before you did, but the new ones can be your constants when they reappear later in the season (or perhaps next season?), so you're not completely left out.

The caveat here is that for newcomers — and honestly, that's really most people who will conceivably be sampling this — High Maintenance does not yet appear fully formed as a series. It feels like it's pulsating with creative potential, but if the series doesn't deliver beyond its already built-in cult, what it could have been will just be forgotten as some stoner's dream.

Cast: Ben Sinclair
Creators: Katja Blichfeld, Ben Sinclair

Airs Fridays at 11 p.m. on HBO.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine

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