How 'High Maintenance’ Creators Turned Their Web Series Into An HBO Hit
Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld are the creators of the web-turned-HBO series High Maintenance. The show is ostensibly about a bike-riding weed dealer in New York City, but this is not a stoner comedy. Instead, “The Guy” (the pot peddler played by Ben Sinclair) is simply the thread that weaves through all the other stories in the show. Each episode is filled with new places and characters and problems, and as a result, it feels more like a series of short films than a show about smoking pot.
WBEZ’s Greta Johnsen spoke with Ben and Katja about finding intimacy in huge cities, how the show feeds on voyeurism, and how everyone might just be weird and miserable. Below are some excerpts from their conversation.
Ben on what it’s like to talk to strangers
“For this show, a lot of strangers will come up to us, and they’ll engage us in a conversation that starts with, ‘We like the show and we wanna talk to you.’ And there was a minute where I didn’t know where we were supposed to go after that compliment. You know what I mean? What else is there to say? So pretty early on, we discovered that no one’s expecting you to ask them, ‘Hey, what are you excited about this week? Where are you going next?’ And a lot of them have been very forthcoming with what’s going on. And that makes New York a completely different city for us. Before, in our early 20’s, it was a land of buildings and places you weren’t allowed to pee unless you bought something. Now, it’s just a bunch of doorways that we have the keys to.”
Ben on the magic of simplicity
“I think the thing that people respond to is the simplicity. The simpler episodes. The ones that we write faster, and the ones that have less twists and turns in them, and that are just more about two people connecting inside of a room-- I think those are the episodes that people seem to really appreciate. It’s that small intimate space that we’re able to touch, because we’re a small, intimate production.”
Katja on the book she can’t stop thinking about
“I just finished Heather Havrilesky’s How to be a Person in the World. I was listening to it on a road trip, actually. It really got me through Texas. Her reading it, too, was incredible. I want that woman to have her own talk show so badly. But also, I want her to be my therapist, even though I love mine. I was just like, wow, she is actually touching on things that I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy to get to. That book was extraordinary. It’s funny, but also it’s profound in this very simple and grounded… I just love it.”