CULTURE & ARTS

Your New Favorite TV Show Is A Former Web Series About Weed

Before it became your favorite HBO show, Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair's show was a wild web series.
Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld
Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld

High Maintenance” is easily described as a show about a marijuana dealer. And it is a show about a marijuana dealer. Created by married-duo Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, the series focuses on a purveyor of pot who winds his way into the lives of myriad New Yorkers, all of whom have one thing in common: they’re in need of weed.

But “High Maintenance,” once a web series of varying lengths on Vimeo and now a part of Friday night programming on HBO, is so much more. The Guy, as the quietly hip dealer is known (played by Sinclair himself), is certainly the show’s center of gravity, yet it’s the satellite characters, some of the most uniquely built and sharply acted personas on television, that stand out.

From “Homeless Heidi” to manic pixie Chad to “Stomp”-ambitious Esme to innocent niece Kate, these are the kinds of characters that provoke a knee-jerk reaction amongst viewers, many of whom will be pleasantly surprised or wholly embarrassed to see their seemingly unique quirks played out on TV. With realistic and improvised dialogue, scenarios that are simple and tethered to life, Blichfeld and Sinclair have managed to write and produce a show, ostensibly about pot, that is just a gorgeously-lit and perfectly tarnished mirror reflecting early to mid adulthood in all its glory. Through The Guy, we meet some of the most humanity-depraved and wholesomely good people to grace the small screen.

With a bendable central plot, “High Maintenance” ― as a web series ― was whatever it wanted to be. Now that it’s on HBO, it’s bound to grow and expand on a premise that’s bursting with potential ― and a fair amount of smoke.

Thankfully, for those new fans who’ve yet to happen upon the Vimeo magic, you can head straight to HBO and watch all 19 of the early webisodes. In honor of the high times ahead, here is a guide to the those original episodes, ranked.

Ben Sinclair
Ben Sinclair

19. “Stevie”

“Stevie” is the debut episode of “High Maintenance.” So, if this were a traditional show, I would recommend that you watch it first to understand who exactly The Guy is (answer: a weed dealer with a charismatic personality who is just as human as your are). But, given that “High Maintenance” in webisode format is not a traditional show, you can watch “Stevie” ― named after a pertinent Stevie Nicks reference, I assume ― at any point in your viewing adventure. It is one of the shortest in the bunch, illustrating just how damn good Blichfeld and Sinclair are at squeezing emotion and action into just a few minutes of viewing time. ― Katherine Brooks

18. “Helen”

This episode revolves around a sweetheart named Patrick who, aside from tending to his Helen Hunt obsession and baking PB&J bars, tends to his bedridden mother. He orders some weed and proceeds to mildly panic while getting dressed before The Guy arrives. He comes, they chill, though Patrick is clearly a little out of his comfort zone. The Guy leaves Patrick with some pink kush, which Patrick promptly tucks into a drawer along with countless other tiny unused baggies. It’s a heartbreaking but memorable episode, one that captures the cooped-up loneliness that can so easily eat at your being and make you forget how to interact with fellow humans, especially ones you would like to be your friend. ― Priscilla Frank

17. “Olivia”

In “Olivia,” we meet two of the worst human beings on the planet ― a man and a woman ― who act out the jealousy, cattiness and belligerence you save for your nastiest days. They are, of course, hilarious as they banter back and forth, ridiculing a phantom woman named Olivia for posting enviable photos on Instagram and trash-talking a friend’s new boyfriend the second they exit a seemingly cordial double date. Also, in this episode we are treated to a worst-case scenario for The Guy: he’s selling to a couple of people who are ready to take advantage of him and be oh-so deplorable in the process. ― KB

16. “Elijah”

It’s Passover! The Guy makes a delivery to the Waxman family seder, on behalf of the evening’s hired chef who’s trying to woo a rebellious daughter who can’t stand being with her family without a little of “Daddy’s little helper.” The Guy shows up just as little Ben Waxman is opening the door for Elijah (the Jewish prophet you save a glass of wine for at Passover) and the already tense holiday dinner gets far stranger. In the HBO intro to the episode, Ben Sinclair explains that his mom is a cantor, and thus Passover seders have always held a special place in his heart. I hope they went down exactly like this. ― PF

15. “Dinah”

Chad, the main character in “Dinah,” is somewhat of a recurring character. In commentary available on HBO, the “High Maintenance” creators describe him as a “manic pixie dream boy” and “millennial soft boy” who’s really just a narcissist. In this episode, he is the freewheelin’ bro who stays with his couple friends, two people less than thrilled about his antics. He is the best amalgam of all your current, 20- or 30something guy friends who just want to live life, man. 

Note: Kether Donahue (from “You’re the Worst”) plays the girlfriend, and she should be in everything. ― KB

14. “Trixie”

“Come stay with us in our sleep loft space, only two blocks from the L train.” In this episode, a couple (Candace and John) decides to AirBnB a spare bedroom in their apartment ― while they’re still occupying the place. Not surprisingly, the subtenants suck, for various reasons including but not limited to creepiness, noise, food stealing and a predilection for comedy shows in Times Square. I love this episode because it stars real-life couple Candace and John, whose chemistry is exquisite to watch. ― PF

13. “Qasim”

“Qasim” begins like an episode of “Black Mirror” and ends like an episode of “Black Mirror.” It is an episode of “Black Mirror,” maybe? The two main characters meet at a cycling class, bond over their shared love of exercise and health, and end up going on a date during which the eccentric artist character Scott admits to his adherence not only to a strict workout and sleep regiment, but also to a Scientology-like lifestyle. As usual, the ending is gorgeous. ― KB

12. “Jonathan”

“Jonathan” guest stars comedian Hannibal Buress as himself and follows him around performing, touring, chilling with fangirls, and existing in the strange space between civilian life and fame. His daily grind is shaken up, however, when a shooting occurs during one of his sets. The rest of the episode features Hannibal grappling with the senseless violence through modern-day coping mechanisms like weed and Twitter. Buress’ character, torn between comedy and gravity, finds himself depressed somewhere in the middle, and the episode itself operates in this uncertain middle ground. It’s a great example of how the show braces topical issues in ways that don’t feel preachy or forced, and opts to linger in ambiguous middle ground rather than make a grand declaration. ― PF

11. “Esme”

Okay. Bear with this episode. Some people, I’ve come to understand, find Esme, the main character, a bit irritating. But, wow, is she inventive. Esme is part of a rival all-women weed dealing collective, who actually dreams not-so-silently of becoming a “Stomp” performer. When The Guy and Esme collide, she is sick and tired of rejection, and you, dear viewer, won’t be able to stop imagining yourself, at the very end of your rope, feeling the same way. ― KB

Episode 1: Helene Yorke, Max Jenkins.
Episode 1: Helene Yorke, Max Jenkins.

10. “Jaime”

A couple preps dinner when they notice a mouse stuck in a trap. Terrified, they take the only proper course of action and order some weed. The Guy heads to the house and kindly suggests that, instead of letting the mouse, which the women have christened Jamie, suffer, they should put it out of its misery and kill it. After first attempting to hot box the mouse into heaven, The Guy takes one for the team and smashes it with a cast iron skillet. “I just seasoned that!” one of the traumatized ladies responds. A short and light hearted episode, “Jamie” is peak The Guy — spacey, resourceful and a bit unhinged. ― PF

9. “Geiger”

Step 1: Watch “Geiger.” Step 2: Immediately go online to search for any and all tools you might need in the wake of an apocalyptic scenario. Like... a Geiger counter. This episode really tests the range of this show, introducing a little bit of the speculative fiction-esque vibes that make “High Maintenance” something greater than a comedy. ― KB

8. “Brad Pitts”

It’s 4/20 and The Guy is delivering some goods to Ellen and Ruth, who, not a seasoned smoker, is looking to stimulate her appetite while fighting stomach cancer. The Guy returns later in the evening to find Ellen wigging out from getting too high, while Ruth can’t stop laughing. Instead of calming Ellen down, The Guy decides to mess with her a little before peacing out. It’s one of the few episodes that doesn’t center on millennial clients, and touches on the medicinal properties of weed. The episode’s tenderness is balanced by The Guy’s impish intrusion, and willingness to bamboozle a terrified older lady. ― PF

7. “Sufjan”

This episode will ring too true for some Brooklyn-based couples in New York City. The plot: Woman and man live in cute neighborhood, woman and man get priced out of cute neighborhood, woman and man start dreaming of a palatial home with rooftop access so they settle for a rent-stabilized apartment a solid hour away from the nexus of their former existence. “Sufjan” is one of those episodes I watched and thought, yup, I’ve uttered those words before. I am her. ― KB

6. “Ruth”

The Guy sets up two of his clients on a blind date. There’s Ruth — who appeared in earlier episode “Brad Pitts” — a weed-smoking woman recovering from stomach cancer. And Victor, a lonely-seeming security guard and self-defense class punching bag who also enjoys getting high. The two meet up at a diner for a painfully awkward exchange, until they decide to get high. The show beautifully captures the way magical marijuana-induced conversations can hop between being nonsensical and raw, silly and momentous. Their super sweet date takes a turn when Victor pees after touching a hot pepper, which seems to really, really, really hurt. ― PF

5. “Sabrina”

“Sabrina” depicts everything I want in a weekend away with friends: A house in the woods, proximity to food and booze, and enough emotional outpouring and gentle ribbing to remind you why you all care to spend time together in the first place. You will watch this episode and immediately cast your closest pals as each and every weekender. (Someone is Chad.) Oh, and there are mushrooms. ― KB

4. “Rachel”

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) plays Colin, a stay-at-home dad trying to make some headway on a script. He procrastinates, however, by shopping for women’s clothing on the internet. When The Guy comes over for a delivery, Colin is wearing a (super cute) dress, prompting the dealer’s awkward yet understanding response: “I have another customer who cross-dresses — [he’s] very frumpy.” The episode embodies the show’s ability to take on other “taboo” behaviors beyond weed smoking, regarding them with a similar attitude of openness and humor. ― PF

3. “Genghis”

Genghis communicates a fact worth repeating: being a teacher is hard. Students in New York City are particularly adept humans who, yet to truly face the hardships of adulthood, can lack a little empathy. “Genghis” follows a young, asexual man (also in “Dinah”) who’s just abandoned a cubicle job to become a teacher(’s assistant) ― and it’s no fairy tale. This episode is a great example of how carefully this show can craft a character in just 15 minutes or so. ― KB

2. “Matilda”

The Guy gets a visit from his chatty tweenage niece Kate — played by Blichfeld and Sinclair’s real niece — who is in town from Phoenix and really wants to see “Matilda.” Broadway tickets ain’t cheap, and The Guy has to hustle to make enough money while keeping his line of work under wraps. The musical doesn’t end up happening, but the two wind up at feminist TEDx talk in Brooklyn that ends the night right. The Guy is wonderfully awkward and charming in his attempts to interact with a miniature human, and this is one of the few episodes viewers can glimpse into his life outside of work. ― PF

1. “Heidi”

The episode is named for the character Heidi, played by the amazing Greta Lee. It begins with a simple juxtaposition: In the opening montage, we’re introduced to what appears to be a couple enjoying the early, but settled moments of an OKCupid relationship. (Think: loads of brunch.) Cut to a scene on a New York city subway, in which The Guy is seated next to a uniformed individual who’s grotesquely cutting his nails on the train. “Heidi” is such a beautiful example of how this show rests effortlessly on the unrelated short stories of people living in the city, yet can easily whip back to its center ― The Guy, the man with the weed, a philosopher-king so constant in the lives of those he services. 

In the commentary available at the beginning of every old episode on HBO, Sinclair and Blichfeld admitted that, when they made this episode, they realized “this is what the show is about.” It’s the perfect way to get hooked on “High Maintenance.” ― KB

“High Maintenance” airs at Friday, 11 p.m. ET, on HBO.

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