Classic silent movie charisma is the big eyes and expressive face of someone like Steve Buscemi. A non-judgemental innocence that indulges the characters he’s cast amongst and slows the tempo to a speed at which good vibes are more easily attainable. It’s a level of charm that High Maintenance’s co-creator Ben Sinclair – playing an unassuming weed delivery guy – dispenses liberally. He’s the only recurring character but to call him the protagonist would be inaccurate. More of a linking reference point between vignettes of low stakes creative class drama. Summoned in the manner of any other outsourced lifestyle requirement and referred to universally as “The Guy”, Sinclair is the show’s irenic rock.
Perceptions of stoner cinema often start with the presumption that a certain level of intoxication is required to enjoy them. Or that it only extends as far as the psychedelic or the “so bad it’s good”. A brush which doesn’t tar far more acceptable intoxicants like alcohol or tobacco. In fact the show’s marijuana consumption is almost insidious in it’s normality. There are no overindulgers giving the rest of them a bad reputation. Just recognisable individuals looking to avoid sober spectatorship until they can motivate themselves to undertake equally meaningless but society approved tasks.
Not a conventional comedy, High Maintenance is amusing in the style of other observationally accurate dramas. Namely the comedic schadenfreude of your foibles performed by another. Or, less frequently, when a character nails a line without the l’esprit d’escalier that haunts those without a writer’s room chaperone. However this is only part of what makes it so compulsively watchable.
When Nathan Rabin first coined the term “manic pixie dream girl”, one of the key elements was that these characters were said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness. A trope which also has easy comparisons to the “Magical Negro” who provided spiritual or mystical help to people of an earlier era. Yet this doesn’t undermine “The Guy”. In one episode a customer asks about the wedding ring he wears. It turns out there isn’t a “Mrs Guy”, he just does it to make himself look more trustworthy. In another, a mature female client makes a very plausible play for some physical intimacy but “The Guy” deflects without rejecting and proceeds to set her up with another client. He is, in many ways, the ideal barman that lost souls seek when they open a tab seeking solace from their oblivion.
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.
Sinclair along with his co-creator and wife, Katja Blichfeld, have created something which more than justifies the acclaim it has received.