Oregon Cannabis Guide 2016
WE NEED to talk about “Grandpa.”
“Grandpa” is the third episode of the new 30-minute HBO version of High Maintenance, the terrific web series that details the exploits of the Guy (Ben Sinclair), a weed deliveryman in Brooklyn. Actually, that’s not quite right—High Maintenance is about the various people the Guy crosses paths with: his customers, their neighbors, and so on (the Guy flits in and out of each story but is rarely the central character). Rather, each episode of High Maintenance is in essence a short film starring a different group of actors. Taken individually, each installment is like a terrifically drawn character study. In multiple doses, those quick web episodes become a patchwork along the lines of Truffaut’s L’argent de poche but about soft drugs instead of kids, or Linklater’s Slacker, but with a central thesis about humanity and community as opposed to one of detachment.
Within High Maintenance’s loosely set parameters, “Grandpa” is unique: Most of the new HBO episodes paste two stories together to make up a half-hour, usually with a bit of ingenious connective tissue. “Grandpa,” on the other hand, follows a single story from start to finish, and it’s not about the human beings at the periphery of the Guy’s delivery route—it’s about an enormous, shaggy, wolfhound-labradoodle-ish bundle of fur named Gatsby whose transition from the suburbs to the city proves particularly challenging. “Grandpa” is a 30-minute film about a dog, told almost entirely from the dog’s point of view, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking, hilarious, and brilliant. I don’t know where exactly they found the dog that plays Gatsby, or how they were patient enough to have him do all the correct things on camera—Gatsby is very sweet while also seeming like a bit of a handful—but it’s one of the best performances you’ll see on TV this year. (Better luck in 2017, Michael Weatherly.)
Sinclair and High Maintenance co-creator Katja Blichfeld—both of whom wrote and directed all six HBO episodes—have made what could have been a disastrous transition to a new format into a further refinement of what made the web series so great. The Sinclair character’s laidback, almost naive geniality is a welcome change of pace from the way television normally depicts drug dealers. And Blichfeld (who makes a brief appearance in the HBO season’s second episode) is a well-established New York casting director whose eye for acting talent makes every role on the show perfectly embodied. The new episodes are currently airing on HBO every Friday night, and all of the previous episodes from the web series are now available on demand through HBO Go and HBO Now. You can start anywhere in the series and be totally fine, continuity-wise, although the HBO half-hour episodes do contain some welcome callbacks to established characters from the web series. Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter where you pick up.
The show has always been particularly adept at gently skewering Brooklyn’s gentrifying class—the white, moneyed, artsy crowd that uses pot as a lifestyle enhancement. But this new crop of episodes expands that canvas in a natural way, and in directions that have nothing to do with weed. The fourth installment, “Tick” includes a thoughtful character study of Wei (Clem Cheung), a Chinese master musician who keeps his erhu under the bed and instead earns money by collecting bottles, while his son, a theremin virtuoso, plays to vast crowds in Europe. Episode 2, “Museebat,” depicts Eesha (Shazi Raja), a young Muslim woman of Pakistani descent who lives with her strict aunt and uncle and sneaks cigarettes on the roof of her apartment building, carefully but determinedly pushing at the edges of traditional American-teen rebellion.
The in-and-out format of the show is what makes it so invigorating. The medium of short film isn’t anything new, obviously, but it’s so underutilized (in favor of feature films and serial TV) that these brief glimpses into characters’ lives feels like the show is using a previously unspoken but instinctually understood language. In a recent interview with Vulture, Sinclair said, “When we go to film festivals, those are the programs we go to, we go to short films because there’s something so satisfying about the length—demanding so much control from the director and from the audience, it’s like a real controlled environment.”
That control is used expertly by Blichfeld and Sinclair. The show is frequently hysterical, but it’s not exactly a comedy; it’s got an indelible New York flavor, but it isn’t too insular or self-referential; it uses pot as a plot device, not as a crutch for lazy characterizations. High Maintenance is forever going to be referred to as “that show about the weed guy.” And it is that. But there’s plenty to love here, whether you partake or not.
In a group interview with The Cannabist, Sinclair said, “The more we talk about weed, the more the show becomes about weed and the further we’re getting away from the core of the show, which is about people.” Blichfeld and Sinclair have made something that’s about the furthest thing from a “stoner” show as you can get: a study of relationships and modern American life and the things that make us human. Or, in Gatsby’s case, a dog.