The pot comedy returns Sunday for its fourth season, but it started off as a web series in 2012. The show has survived a lot, including the mainstream acceptance of marijuana. "At the same time," says Vikram Murthi, "High Maintenance itself has remained consistent in framework and outlook. Each episode still follows a different set of New Yorkers who all purchase pot from The Guy (Sinclair), our nameless audience surrogate. While the character has developed and deepened over the course of the series, The Guy still mostly flits through other people’s lives already in progress. High Maintenance continues to balance slice-of-NYC-life observations with tight short-form structure: episodes often build to a reveal or a revelation; sometimes two different threads converge in surprising ways; emotional climaxes manifest unconventionally." Murthi adds: "But like many shows that have been around long enough to showcase their big bag of tricks, High Maintenance occasionally falls into stale, predictable patterns. An anthology series might promise infinite flexibility, but ultimately the lack of boundaries becomes its own limitation, and the weakest High Maintenance episodes tend to resemble bland, Humans Of New York-esque pablum. However, in the first two episodes of the upcoming fourth season, High Maintenance acknowledges its own formula through an implicit comparison with another longer-running series and good ol’ fashioned recursive meta commentary."
High Maintenance is the "Law & Order for millennial actors": "High Maintenance has become virtually unparalleled at finding and showcasing up-and-coming New York talent," says Max Cea. "In recent years, the show has arguably helped launch more careers than Saturday Night Live. If someone is making noise in Brooklyn’s thriving alternative comedy scene in particular, it’s usually only a matter of time before you’ll see them toke up in High Maintenance."
Drugs are besides the point on High Maintenance: "Each episode is an intimate window into a new life — a birdwatcher diagnosed with cancer, an agoraphobic caretaker obsessed with Helen Hunt, a woman addicted to the thrill of exposing just one breast," says Robyn Bahr. "These detailed character studies are often hilarious and poignant, but never cruel or cloying. They elevate the art form of the ironic vignette, saturating it with searing humanity. Creators and ex-spouses Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld frequently satirize the artisans who animate the city, simultaneously rebuking bougie hipster culture while also reinforcing the cooler-than-thou snobbery of the creative class."
Season 4's crowning achievement is a storyline on a TV show intimacy coordinator: "This is fruitful territory for HBO, which was one of the first networks to formalize hiring intimacy coordinators as a regular practice," says Jude Dry. "(This was after allegations of sexual misconduct against James Franco made it a necessity on his show The Deuce.) It’s fascinating to see an insider perspective ... on what is a certainly an opaque process to the general public."
Creators Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld discuss Season 4 and collaborating with This American Life: "In December of 2018, I said to myself, 'Self, we're going to have an episode with This American Life,'" says Sinclair. "I found a note recently that said, 'This American Life: we're going to get involved.' And yeah, within a couple of months, Ira (Glass) and I were friends. Ira was a really good collaborator on that episode. I would send him a draft and he would be like, 'This would happen in our office. This wouldn't happen in our office."'And that's how it came to be. They are kind of an 'indielectual' analogue, as our marketing at HBO would like us to call out the 'indielectual' crowd. (Laughs) We both tell stories. We're both anthology series. We both have a sensitivity, and it doesn't seem like either of us are into sports, and it seems we were mutual fans of one another. It seemed like a good fit."