Two serial portraits of the life and culture of post-gentrification Brooklyn premiered in 2012: Girls, a half-hour HBO show; and High Maintenance, an erratically updated, self-produced web series. Girls got the attention. High Maintenance got it right.
High Maintenance tells the story of an affable pot dealer on a bike and the panoply of nervy New Yorkers he encounters in the course of his daily deliveries. But to paraphrase the late critic Richard Freedman, to call High Maintenance a show about weed is to call Moby Dick a book about whales.
The web series—whose fifth season premieres today—offers an honest and funny reflection on the sublimely ridiculous world of gentrification-era Brooklyn and all the pressures that come along with it. Where Girls has always felt vaguely touristic or distanced—a non-resident's vision of 2010s-era Brooklyn, complete with a narrow array of cardboard characters—High Maintenance shows the gentrified quarter of the borough in its full, diverse, weirdness. Infinitely funnier and more recognizable than Girls, it's the cultural document that we'll look back on 50 years from now, sitting in our hovels wondering why people were paying $3,000 to live in converted factories on Kent Ave., as the key portrait of a truly bizarre moment in real estate history.
Rather than focus on the dealer, each episode of High Maintenance is spent with a new customer, and it's never clear when the bearded dealer known only as "The Guy" will show up and ease their pain. (Despite my effusive praise for the show as Brooklyn-based, he does sometimes venture into Manhattan, as we all must.) The characters are often worthy of ridicule, but Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair (who plays "the guy"), the husband-and-wife-duo behind the show, treat their stressed-out subjects with compassion even as they're getting high as shit and laughing at how silly they are.
For the first time ever, as part of a new push for original content from Vimeo, the creators are charging money for the new cycle—$1.99 per episode or $7.99 for all six—but the previous episodes are all still available for free.
A few of the best oldies:
"Stevie," the first episode, follows a pill-popping personal assistant, her abusive boss, and Stevie Nicks' asshole.
"Trixie," the cycle two premiere, is about the hazards of Airbnb.
Hannibal Buress plays a PTSD-ridden version of himself in "Jonathan," the first High Maintenance episode that deals—mostly successfully—with largely unfunny subject matter.
In "Elijah," we see the dynamic of a hugely dysfunctional family through the lens of a farm-to-table Seder dinner.
Cycle four finale "Rachel," about a writer coming to terms with his own cross-dressing, is probably the show's single best episode. The fourth cycle is uniformly great, however, and you should watch it all.