In the absence of certainty, the fewer assumptions that are made the better. This is the general principle of Ockham’s Razor and the best reason to watch High Maintenance. It’s a comedy involving pot; where the stories tangentially involve marijuana, but marijuana is rarely the story itself. It’s far more than stoner humour.
Each episode is a 10 to 20 minutes vignette of low stakes drama in which High Maintenance’s co-creator Ben Sinclair – playing an unassuming weed delivery guy – is the utterly delightful part-time protagonist who delivers an unobtrusive look into the disparate domesticity of creative class New Yorkers.
The parameters of High Maintenance are modest and it’s often at it’s best when it’s at its most unassuming. A character half-caught through a door frame, the subtitled argument of a mute couple or the icebreaker that sinks an obnoxious kid’s titanic ego. I spoke to Sinclair, along with his wife and co-creator Katja Blichfeld about weed economics, the amicable bonds of shared illegality and drug dealer avatars.
Do you think the (seemingly almost inevitable) legalisation of marijuana will unemploy your friendly neighbourhood “Guy?”
Katja Blichfeld: No way. It might change his clientèle, sure. There will be those who won’t want to be registered marijuana users, for various reasons. Plus there are others who just like to participate in the black market. So it might just change the customer profile, but The Guy won’t be out of business any time soon.
Was it better or worse creating outside of the constraints of thirty-minute or one-hour formulas?
Blichfeld: We love being free of a time constraint. In terms of storytelling, we find it limiting to be told a story must fit within the confines of 21-45 minutes. Can you imagine if novelists all had to uniformly tailor their work to a specific length – down to the page-count? That would be weird.
When something has DIY origins, it can be difficult to avoid “self-indulgent,” “pet project” perceptions. Was this something you faced?
Blichfeld: We haven’t faced a ton of this brand of criticism, luckily. We’ve never forced ourselves on the world, and have tried to just let our audience come to us as much as possible. Perhaps that’s been a helpful strategy for us.
How much of the show’s popularity would you credit to people’s desire to slip unobtrusively into the private spaces of strangers?
Blichfeld: I’m really not sure! I actually think most of the appeal comes from people seeing themselves, or people they know, in the characters we portray. We hear over and over again that our show makes people “feel normal”. I like to think that’s what compels our audience to keep watching, and to recommend the series to friends. That being said, we’re thoroughly aware of the fact that we represent a very small sliver of the creative middle class, and never purport to represent Brooklyn or New York as a whole. We speak to a relatively small segment of the world at large, and we totally get that.
Does “The Guy” have no name because he’s an avatar for our collective curiosities?
Ben Sinclair: A drug dealer doesn’t usually give you his/her real name. We’ve met dealers who go by animal monikers and others who just make up pseudonyms. We decided our protagonist would simply call himself “The Guy”. The anonymous quality makes it easier for people to be vulnerable and open around him, and yes, as you point out – it makes it easier for him to be an avatar for our collective curiosities. To be a an emotional surrogate for the audience, if you will.
Does the premise’s illegality make it easier to build intimacy between characters?
Sinclair: Definitely. The Guy and his client are complicit in something illegal together. It’s easier to make a connection in that situation, for sure.