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‘High Maintenance’ review: HBO’s spot-on stories of NYC stoners

Ben Sinclair as The Guy in HBO's

Ben Sinclair as The Guy in HBO's "High Maintenance," which debuts Friday, Sept. 16 at 11 p.m. Credit: HBO / David Russell

THE SHOW “High Maintenance”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Friday, Sept. 16 at 11 p.m. on HBO



WHAT IT’S ABOUT The Guy (Ben Sinclair) deals pot to a wide cross-section of people in New York City. They include Max (Max Jenkins) and Lainey (Heléne Yorke) in Friday’s opener. Max is gay, she’s straight, and they are both desperately co-dependent. The Guy occasionally (and unintentionally) gets involved in these lives. This six-part anthology series by former “30 Rock” casting director Katja Blichfeld and (her spouse) Sinclair is based on the 2012-15 Vimeo web series of the same name, and returns many familiar faces from the webisodes. They include (besides Jenkins and Yorke), Michael Cyril Creighton (the Oct. 21 finale), Dan Stevens (Sept. 23), Yael Stone (Sept. 30, as a fun-loving dog walker), Bridget Moloney (Oct. 7), and Hannibal Buress (Oct. 14). There are a few big-name cameos, too (Amy Ryan, to name one).

MY SAY There are a million stories in the naked city — some of them even involving naked people. But most of the stories here involve stoned people — or occasionally stoned and naked ones. Their intermediary, or catalyst, or abettor, or sympathetic ear is the guy who sells them weed. You shall know him only as The Guy. Fans of the web series will recall him fondly. He hasn’t changed much, other than his hair (a bit thinner). The beard remains a jungle.

Sinclair and Blichfeld have recaptured most of the spirit of the web series, along with most of the cast. Their New York remains essentially the same too — its polarities are Brooklyn and parts of lower Manhattan, with occasional segues to the wilds of Queens. Their eye for detail — language, street life, fashion, and the way their characters inhabit their tiny spaces — remains just about flawless, too.

Also, the six-part series is not (or rarely) conventionally funny, but the fifth episode (“Selfie”) is, or at least part of it: This one reprises web series standout, “Homeless Heidi” (Greta Lee), who is still up to her old tricks. The fourth wall is also breached — hilariously — during a shoot of “Girls” on some Brooklyn street.

Fans of the original will probably revel in this; newbies will be puzzled. They won’t necessarily be wrong. “High Maintenance” in fact did work best as a series of vignettes, while Sinclair and Blichfeld occasionally struggle to expand that form into a half-hour box. They’re miniaturists at heart, or at least their original creation was miniaturized. To accommodate the longer form here, they’ve interwoven two longer stories per episode, then looped in The Guy (often late in an episode) to yoke both together. It’s a version of a seven-degrees-of-separation narrative trick that establishes how lives are interconnected. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not. Some episodes and stories fight bloat.

“High Maintenance” is still best approached — and savored — as a series of moments. The actors, each one of them excellent and each bringing their game, capture private lives in those moments. They flash by, but not before some part of their heart is laid bare. “High Maintenance” isn’t really about the pot. It’s about the people.

BOTTOM LINE Lots of first-rate performances — including by a dog — but some of the stories are a little bloated or unfocused.


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