GOOD

A Blaze of Comedy Glory on Vimeo

What the weed-based web series High Maintenance has to do with Martin Scorsese, Louis C.K., and the end of television

Ben Sinclair and Yael Stone in a new episode of High Maintenance. Photo by Gus Powell

If you’re one of the few remaining holdouts keeping your internet and TV in separate boxes, there’s really no way to appropriately explain High Maintenance. The problem is that High Maintenance—chronicling the workdays of a New York City weed delivery guy (Ben Sinclair)—is technically what you’d call a “web series,” an ugly phrase that for some still connotes even uglier words like “vlog” and “15-year-old YouTube sensation.” But far from an unformed idea waiting to blossom into a high-quality cable show, High Maintenance makes the case that the internet is ready for primetime. Now in its second season and produced by the video-streaming site Vimeo (a first for the company), High Maintenance has no co-sign from a true TV channel despite being qualitatively on the level, if not above, most of the content still tethered to such networks. The fact that it circumvented all the traditional gatekeepers in its conception works purely to its advantage.


Banish all thoughts of web-cam-shot sketches, memes or viral videos. High Maintenance—created by Sinclair and his wife Katja Blichfeld—is better compared to high caliber, innovative sitcoms like Starz’s much-missed Party Down or FX’s cult comedy Louie. That’s not to accuse High Maintenance, which debuted in 2012 and will premiere new episodes via Vimeo On Demand beginning Tuesday, of being a web-based facsimile of TV’s cutting edge. Though Blichfeld and Sinclair clearly join Louis C.K. among the growing ranks of Martin Scorsese-indebted comedic auteurs, High Maintenance also draws from Robert Altman and more recently, the brothers Coen and Duplass.

Ben Sinclair in High Maintenance.

Where Louie’s view of the world is skewed by its protagonist’s schlub-shaped lens, Sinclair’s drug dealer is a nameless, often-wordless observer who acts more like a McGuffin-delivering plot device than a main character. “Stevie” and “Matilda,” High Maintenance’s first and most recent episodes respectively, give Sinclair’s charismatic weed guy significant screen time, but in most episodes he’s off-screen and blissfully oblivious as the episode’s actual storyline unfolds among his waiting customers. The viewer becomes a true voyeur without an onscreen avatar, picking out the plot from threads of dangling, digressive conversations dropped by the various cross-dressers, cancer patients, homeless people, hipster a-holes, and Bon Iver-blasting lesbian vegans gentrifying, putrefying, or just surviving in the Big Apple. Oftentimes the most important action happens off-screen—an abrupt edit requires viewers to fill in a sizable ellipsis with their own knowledge of human behavior, a feat hard to imagine any traditional television network entrusting so fully to its audience.

Sometimes, as in the gloriously NSFW Passover episode “Elijah,” the payoff is a punchline. More often episodes are capped with a delightful, last-second clarity, a quickly captured but well-developed snapshot of one face in a crowd of 8 million. And like Louie, the socially awkward loners populating High Maintenance’s NYC (with a few unforgettable and unnerving exceptions) share a fundamental difference from Robert De Niro’s Scorsese-directed misfits. Unlike Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin, most of the people blowing up this drug dealer’s phone are capable of comprehending modern society and even contributing to it.

In 2014, technology provides the illusion of constant human connection, simplifying and sanitizing most interactions of their messy, smelly, mostly inconvenient humanness. Marijuana’s continued illegality in New York (notwithstanding the new allowance for medical uses) makes it one of the few things High Maintenance’s characters must step outside their comfort zones to obtain. The brief moments of intrusion these characters are forced to accommodate for a little baggie of relief are thrilling to watch because they are increasingly vanishing from actual life.

Though the characters have trouble relating to one another, High Maintenance’s large company of talented actors conveys the roles to the viewer in HD clarity. Parts somehow feel lived in even when the characters clock less than a minute of total screen time (episode lengths range from five to 15 minutes). Blichfeld, who won an Emmy as a casting director for 30 Rock, does equally award-winning work here.

Ironically, young stoners looking for easy gags that were old when Cheech & Chong got a hold of them may well be the demographic mostly likely to consider High Maintenance a confounding buzzkill. Though the skeevy stoner is well represented among the exponentially growing and loosely interconnected customer base in High Maintenance’s world, these weed buyers are significantly more varied than we’re used to seeing onscreen. Caring parents, senior citizens, and other functioning adults seem to be the kind of customers Sinclair’s pot purveyor prefers, and these kinds of everyday people are also the audience High Maintenance wants to attract. It seems a web series, like medicinal-grade ganja, can have any number of uses beyond making heavy-lidded high schoolers giggle. That we’re just now discovering what many of those uses are makes the high that much more intense.

Articles
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet