HBO’s High Maintenance provides a surprising, and refreshing, depth of character.
High Maintenance is the HBO show we all need right now
Every week, HBO’s High Maintenance introduces some of the best-written characters on television, an impressive feat considering all but one of them are unlikely to ever appear on the show again. The series is a collection of vignettes, each connected only by the presence of “The Guy,” a weed dealer who rides his bike around New York City making deliveries to a diverse group of clients.
Despite the premise, the show eschews all the hallmarks of “stoner” entertainment and aims to provide a unique look at life in New York. Sure, all of these people need to purchase weed for some reason or another, but it’s rarely the main focus of the story and usually only happening incidentally to whatever else is going on.
Before it came to HBO, High Maintenance was produced as a web series on Vimeo by creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld. But even with a premium cable budget and longer episodes, the television edition maintains the intimacy of the original. This is part of the show’s charm: it never seems interested in becoming more than what it is. There are no season-long mysteries to unravel or CGI dragons here.
Which is not to say the show lacks ambition. In fact, it continually surprises me by subverting expectations and finding new ways to intertwine the various plots of an episode. With the anthology approach, the writers have creative license to tell pretty much any story they want to.
Some episodes hope to make a pointed commentary, like the second season premiere, “Globo,” written by Blichfeld and Sinclair, which shows the various reactions of people in the aftermath of an unnamed catastrophic event – likely the 2016 presidential election, which took place between the end of the first season and the start of the second.
But most are just entertaining and well-made character studies, like “Grandpa.” That episode, which is also written by Blichfeld and Sinclair, is told entirely from the point of view of a dog named Gatsby. Instead of relegating a seemingly one-dimensional character to the background, the writers give Gatsby depth, feelings and goals. All the human characters are treated with this same respect, and maybe that’s all the show is trying to say: that the person you passed on the street this morning has a story too, and it deserves to be told.
Hot Ones serves up an interesting take on the celebrity interview
As a fan of late night television, there is nothing about the genre that I hate more than celebrity interviews. No matter how famous the guest or charismatic the host, the result is almost always boring because everybody involved has the routine down to a tee: the host engages the celebrity in some quick banter, throws out some softball questions, listens intently while they tell a publicist-approved anecdote, and plays a clip from whatever they are there to promote.
Hot Ones, which airs on the First We Feast YouTube channel, has managed to breathe new life into the format. Every episode, host Sean Evans and a guest eat chicken wings doused in hot sauce. Each serving gets progressively hotter until the guest makes it through all the levels and gets the chance to plug their latest project. The last few wings are ridiculously hot, and some guests have had to tap out early, as in DJ Khaled's now-infamous episode.
It is endlessly entertaining watching celebrities sweating and cursing as their taste buds burn off, but for me, the appeal of the show is in seeing some of the most poised people in the world be a little vulnerable. Just by agreeing to the interview, the guest is risking embarrassment, which makes it more intriguing than most late-night interviews.
But Hot Ones has plenty of merit beyond just the concept. As an interviewer, Evans asks thoughtful, well-researched questions and seems to genuinely care about the answers. The show is kept light by design, so no profound moments or heartbreaking realizations are going to happen, but anyone interested in a particular guest’s career is bound to learn something new.
I have been watching Hot Ones for a couple years now and enjoyed seeing it grow from an obscure internet show to a legitimate hit with millions of views each week, featuring guests like Kevin Hart, Cara Delevingne, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Something about the show strikes a chord with people. Watching celebrities put themselves through this challenge humanizes and makes them more relatable. There is a market for this type of content, and , and the show’s success is just proof that even the most tired of concepts can become relevant again with the right twist.
header image: "bike lane," john st. john / flickr