Vimeo On Demand webseries review: High Maintenance (Season 2)
Ivan Radford | On 12, Nov 2014
Breathe a relaxed sigh: High Maintenance has returned for a second season. The webseries follows a pot dealer on his rounds in Brooklyn. A comedy about weed? It might sound like a dumb stoner show, but cast aside your low expectations: High Maintenance blows away any concerns in only a few minutes.
The brilliance of High Maintenance is that it literally takes a few minutes: episodes last anywhere from 180 seconds to the best part of half an hour. We dip into the daily routine of “The Guy”, witnessing a transaction and a small slice of his customers’ lives. That brief taste is enough to get you hooked.
That’s just what happened to Vimeo, it seems. The show has been going on the streaming site for some time, with episodes released for free – in batches of three – every few months. Earlier this year, though, Vimeo announced that it would be stepping into the world of paid original TV series, and that High Maintenance would be its first production.
Vimeo couldn’t have picked a better first show. Created by husband and wife team Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, it feels different to everything else out there – and that’s saying something.
Sinclair stars as “The Guy” (we never learn his name), who interacts with a colourful range of customers, all beard and laidback humour. The production quality is impressive, but never showy, and always feel real. (It helps that the couple often use real life apartments for their sets, some belonging to their friends.) Most impressive of all, though, are the cast, who manage to sell their individual stories with an equally low-key realism. It’s less Dude, Where’s My Car? and more Frances Ha; and all the better for it.
Season 2 (or Season 5, if you’ve been counting each batch as another run) manages to rack an impressively diverse range of humans – with some familiar faces for old fans. The first sees a bloke obsessed with the idea of an apocalypse destroying New York, driving his girlfriend mad with repeated escape drills.
“You’re a pretty intense dude, aren’t you?” comments The Guy, half-smiling. His customer replies without blinking: “I see everything clearly.”
Another follows a burgeoning romance between Ellen (Birgit Huppuch), a former cancer sufferer who appeared in Season 1, and Victor (Chris McKinney), a man who spends his days being beaten up by women in self-defence classses.
The stand-out, though, is Episode 2, which catches up with Evan Waxman, an asexual magician who is destined to become a cult favourite. Avery Monson’s enthusiastic do-gooder decides to become a teacher’s assistant in summer school – where his tricks (and costumes) are adorably out of place. In any other programme, he would steal the show, but High Maintenance strips out the rest of the series and just gives us strong supporting characters, each one never outstaying their welcome.
The result is a delightful gem in a crowded landscape, which lets you inhale the gentle haze rather than gulp it down and move onto the next. This isn’t binge-viewing, but snack-viewing and there is substance to each satisfying, tightly edited morsel. In an age of streaming and endless “Up Next” lists, this is a stash you don’t want to rush, because there’s only a limited supply – and, whether you’re on the bus or about to go to work, it’s satisying to savour those few seconds of intimacy.
The personal nature of the show – giving Ellen a generous five minutes longer than Episode 1 – means that the tone shifts as much as the length. One moment you’re gasping at a shocking confrontation, the next you’re laughing at an awkward moment involving milk and someone’s genitals. Throughout, we get hints of who The Guy is – “Cousin kissing,” he deadpans, when Victor describes kissing his new flame, “I know what that’s like.” – but at the end of the day, the dealer cycles away and we remain strangers in a city full of strange, fascinating stories, already craving another quick hit.
High Maintenance is available on Vimeo On Demand for $1.99 per episode – or $7.99 (roughly £5) for six episodes, with three out now and three to be released in early 2015.