With many shows going on break for the holidays, now is a perfect time to catch up on some of the B-list shows that may have slipped through the cracks as everyone scrambles to keep up with the flagship television shows in order to avoid spoilers. One show in particular that I had not had the opportunity to watch week by week, but always served as a great time filler throughout the Fall season was HBO’s recently acquired web series, High Maintenance. As television’s production value and intricate storylines are growing out of control and quickly mirroring the blockbuster releases of big Hollywood studios, it is very exciting to see a show that is able to maintain a miniscule budget and tell simple, episodic stories. For those unfamiliar with High Maintenance, the show was previously a web series on Vimeo that earlier this year was picked up by HBO for longer thirty-minute episodes. As you will come to find through this week’s article, High Maintenance really serves as the antithesis to what television has evolved into the last few years with its overarching stores and large budgets, yet it is still able to remain one of televisions most intriguing shows.
When High Maintenance first started on Vimeo in 2012, most episodes were only a few minutes in length and were produced for under $1,000 an episode. These stories centered on various residents throughout New York City and throughout the short episodes the audience would be given a short look into each of their lives. Every single episode in the series is self-contained with the only connection between the episodes coming from the same weed dealer who is never introduced but is just simply called The Guy. While it would seem these brief self-contained episodes would be very plot driven and not allow for much character development, it is actually quite the contrary that occurs. Since the episodes are made so cheaply, the characters are often placed in a singular setting, usually their house, and as a result the entire episode takes place in one location where the audience is able to observe the characters communicating with one another and pick up characterization from these conversations. While the show itself makes this appear easy, the real talent lies in the writers of the show who are able to effortlessly build exposition throughout well-crafted dialogue. By the end of the several minute long episodes, the audience not only completely understands the character but is also given the feeling that each of these characters could have their own several season sitcom because they are just so riveting. While this format was able to work online for the first nineteen episodes, it was clear that with a slight bump in budget and run time the show could transition to a bigger audience on television while still maintaining the vignette format.
By the time HBO released their first episode of High Maintenance, the show had not had a new episode in over nineteen months. During this time the shows creators and HBO took their time to see how the show could be expanded past its several minute run time into half hour shows without losing the quirks that made it so successful. The end product resulted in each episode being made of two to three vignettes that intertwine in some fashion or revolve around a similar theme. In doing so, the show was not only able to keep its charm of being short and sweet, but it also taught the writing team how to tackle more complex storytelling by interweaving several stories and episodes together without making them dependent on one another in order to understand a given episodes plot. However, for those that really want to dive into the series there is enough substance that can be tied to other episodes to fully immerse oneself in the story of the show as a whole.
While the differences between the show’s format on Vimeo and HBO each get the vignette format across in different ways, the real quality that has remained consistent and keeps viewers coming back to he show is the characters the show profiles that you absolutely do not see on television or film. From old men who go to raves, to nudists, to swingers, to cross dressers, to Hindus that are viewed as regular people, the show does a great job of avoiding stereotypes and making characters more than their name would suggest. As a result, by finally being able to see those that we normally do not on television act in the same way as “normal” television characters the audience comes to realize that even though there are some defining characteristics that make everyone different, the same needs of humans exist across every lifestyle.
With television pushing the boundaries of what a show is able to accomplish, it’s interesting to see a show on the other end of the spectrum in terms of production scope giving audiences similar pleasure. As I state in most of my television articles, television is in such a great place right now. Nearly every genre has some show in it that is either breaking ground or refining the characteristics of said genre. It is quite commendable that High Maintenance is even able to generate any buzz considering how small of a show it is; yet its adherence to superb characterization and storytelling earns it 4 out of 5 Reels from Celluloid Cinema.
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