TV pilots often face an uphill climb, burdened with presenting a fully-formed universe despite the fact that universe didn’t exist prior to the opening credits. This can easily lead to characters and exposition being stuffed turducken-style inside 30 or 60 minutes’ worth of premise building.
High Maintenance’s “Meth(od)” is a different animal entirely, serving as a Schrödinger’s cat-style thought experiment. It’s simultaneously season one, episode one of a new HBO series and season seven, episode one of a web series that jumped to premium cable. Fortunately, “Meth(od)” manages to have its brownie (wink wink) and eat it too as a seamless entry and re-entry point for High Maintenance noobs and veterans respectively.
With Erik Adams having given us a thoughtful rundown of High Maintenance’s storied history, serial/anthology format, and dramedy underpinnings, I’ll be mercifully taut with my series synopsis: An unnamed, heavily-bearded cyclist (co-creator Ben Sinclair) delivers pot around Brooklyn, allowing for a voyeuristic glimpse into his clients’ complex lives.
Which brings us to “Meth(od).” The evening’s first client is a jacked-up Vin Diesel-esque uber-bro, whose high-decibel relationship with his girlfriend goes south just as the pot dealer—informally known as The Guy—pops by with the goods. Before we know it, The Guy finds himself figuratively held hostage as our tatted-up muscleman delays payment in order to sound off on everything from pull-up bars to katanas. (All while a menacing fellow named Chauncey sits stoically on the couch.) Japanese sabers or not, it’s a conversational hell we’ve all endured.
Eventually, the misdirection begins to seep in. Once The Guy takes his leave, (spoiler) it’s revealed our knuckle-dragging meathead is actually an erudite British fellow who’s been Jersey Shore-ing himself up for an acting assignment. (Gruff ol’ Chauncey, a fellow Brit, serves as his dialect coach.) It’s a wildly unexpected twist, with solid performances ensuring it never veers into eye-rolling M. Night Shyamalan territory.
The bigger misdirect is reserved for The Guy himself. Although “Meth(od)’s” first ten minutes suggest otherwise, we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘those not familiar with the web series’) slowly realize this charming, soft-spoken pot-dealing protagonist is actually a supporting—even ancillary at times—character in his own show. He weaves in and out of folks’ lives as needed, but typically takes a back seat so their stories can organically play out. Think of him as the cat in Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye. Only, you know, slightly furrier.
Weaving into story number two, we’re greeted by Lainey (Hélene Yorke) and Max (Max Jenkins), two insufferable and irredeemable ‘beautiful people’ from the web series days. And these BFFs are just as vain, shallow, and downright nasty as ever. Which ushers in our next unexpected turn: After a random hookup with a former addict named Sebastian, Max feigns being in recovery so he can tag along to a gay men’s support group meeting.
Ironically, pot has little to do with Max’s story. Lainey is the real drug here, and in the presence of compassionate people in a non-judgmental space, Max slowly finds the strength to question his toxic, co-dependent friendship. By distancing himself from Lainey’s hard-partying lifestyle and the need to play into obnoxious gay stereotypes she adores, Max the Irredeemable begins reconnecting with the decent person he once was.
Despite this uplifting transformation, tragedy wins out. Not with an untimely death or some equally overwrought narrative device, but with the briefly-reformed Max defeated and back in the arms of Lainey. And with most tales of addiction, there isn’t a clear villain. Do relapses stem from a lack of will? Close friends’ unwillingness—conscious or not—to support our positive changes? Or is the universe simply bent on dragging us all back to our inevitable status quos? Regardless of any one takeaway, this is heady and nuanced stuff for a so-called ‘stoner comedy.’
So yes, without well-worn tropes and clichés to harsh our buzz, “Meth(od)” confidently bolts from the HBO gate, letting us know High Maintenance is a show for potheads the way Friday Night Lights is a show for football fanatics—in that it’s not. Just as FNL made sure on-field antics played second fiddle to the engrossing residents of Dillon, Texas, High Maintenance is aiming for substance over, you know, substance abuse. And with “Meth(od)” it looks like we’re off to a budding start.
- I’m looking forward to covering High Maintenance this season and getting your take on things in the comments section. Let’s. Do. This.
- Although I’m well versed in the web series leading up to this point, I’ll resist the urge to get all ‘inside baseball’ about it. If there are pre-HBO references worth mentioning or clarifying, I’ll bring them up—but my focus will be on the ol’ here and now. (FYI, HBO has added the entire High Maintenance web series to its streaming platforms.)
- Don’t get me wrong, potheads will probably be on board with this show, so long as they’re not expecting to see slackers on marijuana-fueled misadventures a la Half Baked or Up In Smoke.
- “What did Chauncey do?!”
- Seriously, when’s the last time some guy in your fantasy football league gushed about Friday Night Lights? Tsk.
- A non-drag Bob the Drag Queen cameo in the support group scene!