[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “High Maintenance” Season 2, Episode 1, “Globo” follow.]
Near the beginning of “High Maintenance’s” fifth episode of Season 2, “Scromple,” a very unconventional preacher’s sermon includes the phrase “praise the miracle and the mess.” It’s an ethos which does a nice job of summing up the ways in which the HBO series embraces humanity’s best and worst impulses, our flaws and our screw-ups and our moments of grace, and an attitude which coming into 2018 brings with it almost a sense of healing.
Continuing to track the lives of New Yorkers struggling to get by on every level, the show never feels like it’s running away from its central premise, following a bike-riding pot dealer (known as the Guy, played by co-creator Ben Sinclair) servicing Manhattan and the greater New York area. But it has continued to evolve and grow with time, letting each episode build upon the last in a way that proves engrossing.
Yes, technically the series remains perfect for sampling, thanks to its relatively stand-alone plotting, but the reward for watching every episode is discovering just how large and vast Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s portrait of New York has become over the years. What might have felt like individual snapshots in the show’s earlier years have been revealed as small pieces of a beautiful mural, only growing richer and richer with each new installment.
Because, after all, the bulk of the people we meet are those who enjoy pot on some level, there aren’t too many investment bankers and government officials featured (sorry, anyone who might have hoped at one point for a “Billions” crossover).
But while many characters tend to represent a certain subset of the city population, the first five episodes not only emphasize people of color and LGBTQ representation, but also feature a variety of new stories, including a community of ex-Hasids, a middle-aged couple baffled by the Brooklyn lifestyle, and a look at the New York housing market from a few unique points-of-view. Everyone is introduced with understanding and affection, even the grating and self-obsessed, and also with an edge of self-awareness that keeps things from getting too cloying.
We also get to know the Guy better, as his personal life is blended into the narrative more — especially his relationship with his estranged wife, who recently left him for a woman (a storyline, first revealed at the end of Season 1, which echoes the real lives of the show’s formerly-married creators).
In general, storylines collide, characters intermingle, and the general weirdness of this city becomes beautiful to behold, as there’s a wider sense of perspective here than in years past, aided by a larger writing staff and new directors behind the camera (for the first time since the earliest web installments, Blichfeld and Sinclair don’t direct every episode, with “Newlyweeds” director Shaka Khan taking the reigns for episodes 3 and 4 of the season).
Perhaps the season’s strongest focus is found in the season premiere, “Globo,” which tracks a day in New York in which people wake up to discover “something bad happened.” What that “something” is never gets defined — not as mild as “Trump tweeted something moronic again,” but not so severe as a full-on terrorist attack — but we watch as the pressures surrounding this day have people turning to their vices to cope with the chaos.
“Globo” doesn’t sugarcoat a day wrecked by the sort of national drama that trickles down to infect all of our psyches. The point is simply just trying to get by, by whatever means necessary — there’s a survival mindset in place here that seems to haunt every storyline, every character. And yet it’s the final moments of innocent joy, as a little boy’s balloon draws in a subway car full of seemingly exhausted, beaten people, that “High Maintenance” proves its capacity to elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary.
From the top down, this is a show that has such patience and empathy for its characters, even the most minute of roles, that it makes you want to get to know the people around you in real life better, open yourself up to their stories, discover their secrets within. Because while there might be unpleasant surprises, good things might also result.
“High Maintenance” has its eyes wide open about the world, but it chooses to see the magic that exists in the mundane whenever possible. And there’s still a lot more humanity left to explore.
“High Maintenance” airs Fridays at 11 p.m. on HBO.