After a strong middle section of the season, it feels like High Maintenance is gradually settling back into its usual routine. The familiar structure returns this week, with a little over half of the episode devoted to characters tangentially related to the Guy, and the rest of the episode focusing on the Guy himself on a separate journey.
The first characters we meet are an unnamed mother (Jessica Hecht) and her husband, Ira (Josh Pais), who are equally occupied, albeit with different concerns. The mom is constantly FaceTiming her college-age daughter and doing way too much for her, and Ira is trying to have sex with his very preoccupied wife. We first meet the two when she is up late revising her daughter’s paper, due the next morning (I hope she was just revising). Her daughter calls her, asking her to send it already so she can print it and then sleep. Even worse, we learn through their conversation that this girl and her mom are not just experiencing college freshman-level separation anxiety, but that the daughter might even be a senior, which makes their relationship even more frustrating. Ira should be able to say something about how absurd it is, but he can’t really seem to think about more than getting his wife to relax and have sex with him. After they head to bed, and after the paper has been completed, Ira tries to introduce some weed to help them relax, but he’s all out. The interaction quickly devolves into Ira excusing himself to use the bathroom… and masturbate into the toilet.
The next day the foolishness with the daughter continues: her mom calls her to wake her up, and the daughter says she can’t print her paper because she’s out of ink. Ira reminds her that he sent her ink (along with the groceries Mom sent) and, lo and behold, it’s on her desk. Later, while in the middle of a work meeting (in which Hecht’s brilliant deadpan skills come out with her dismissal that she “hates all of this”), the daughter calls because she thinks she has a UTI. Of course, that prompts the mom to be the one to schedule her doctor’s appointment. Truly, this daughter is my least favorite character I have ever encountered on High Maintenance.
While Mom is waiting on her daughter’s UTI results, Ira invites over the Guy – who we see now with a new bike and one of those transitional, removable casts on his wrist. It’s clear from Ira’s lack of knowledge about the Guy’s product, and what each does, that he doesn’t order from him much. He isn’t a recreational smoker like most of the other customers we encounter. The Guy hooks him up with “Green Crack,” a strain with supposedly aphrodisiacal qualities.
Ira gets farther in wooing his wife then he did the other night, but then they’re interrupted by a new call from the offspring. She doesn’t have much of anything to say, of course, so it isn’t long before Ira tries to usher her away by saying that she interrupted him and Mom, who were “in the middle of something.” The daughter’s disbelief that they could be in the middle of anything not worth interrupting eventually prompts him to just say that they were trying to have sex tonight, because it’s been awhile. This of course grosses the daughter out, and the call ends but it seems that Mom has finally realized a little bit of Ira’s real frustration at his constantly thwarted attempts to connect with her. She indulges in more of the weed he supplied for them, and soon a new FaceTime call comes in – this time when Mom picks up, it’s Ira’s face she sees. He’s calling her from the kitchen, just behind her. He acts like the daughter does, whining but with a bit of dirty talk thrown in (“my penis is so sad”). Mom responds, amused and interested, with the walls between them seeming to crumble just a bit, but with the addition of a digital wall. The sound in this scene with Ira’s “real” voice and his delayed video chat voice doubling up on each other creates a slightly trippy kind of headspace, but one that underlines the bit of silliness at what they’re doing. It seems that his method is successful, though, and that’s the last we see of this couple.
We cut to a new day, where the Guy is doing his regular deliveries. As he leaves one customer, he gets roped in by an older neighbor (Stan Carp) and his giant ring of keys. The way he gets ensnared in this situation is believably executed, as often you may find yourself in a position where it seems easiest and best to help someone out – and then one thing leads to another and it becomes hard to leave. It starts with the Old Man needing the Guy (gee, not a lot of names in this episode) to open his two door locks, and then when the Old Man walks into his apartment without taking his key ring, the Guy feels obliged to follow to make sure that the man gets his keys back. That leads the Man to ask the Guy to take a look at his pipes to see if the plumbers did their stuff correctly.
The Guy does this, despite repeatedly saying he doesn’t know anything about pipes. As he’s in his apartment, The Guy notices that it’s very messy, and potentially very dangerous (he moves a stack of papers away from the open flame stovetop, for instance). You can see the urges inside of the Guy that are simultaneously screaming, oh my god I need to help this guy so he doesn’t die in here and oh my god I need to get out of here now or I will die in here with him. The situation goes down the sad hill pretty fast when the Old Man starts talking to the Guy like he’s his son. The Guy, being the easygoing compassionate person he is, goes along with it just enough to comfort the Old Man. The Old Man bids him goodbye, because he knows he has to go, but lets the Guy know that he’s “so proud of [him]” before the Guy leaves.
The Guy finally gets to leave, and it appears like he either has a moment of slightly considering going back to help the guy, or at least a moment where he thinks “that was intense.” Either way, he heads out on his way. This episode was written and directed by Eliza Hittman, with co-writing credit by Eric Slovin. Hittman directed last week’s episode, and after watching this one, I feel as if she’s bringing a slightly darker energy to the show – which I like. High Maintenance has gone dark-ish before, but ending episodes on these slightly ambiguous down-notes helps keep the show’s voice fresh and a little unpredictable. The first half of the episode with the family didn’t do much or go anywhere very new for me, despite the presence of a pair of reliably good actors, but the segment with the Guy sucked us into this disarray and sadness for a bit and added enough melancholy and mess to this week’s installment to help it stay with me after its time was up.
- Written by Eliza Hittman and Eric Slovin; directed by Eliza Hittman.
- Closing credits play over a slow zoom in on a photo in the Old Man’s apartment, with The Guy’s face among those of the old New York crowd. This is a Shining reference, right? Or is there another popular instance of a modern character being in an old photograph? (I do like this idea of The Guy being a sort of specter, or myth, after all – he’s been cycling around New York forrrreeevvver).
- “Ghost” refers to the daughter temporarily “ghosting” her mom after her doctor’s appointment. Apparently she was just “ugh, really busy.”
- Ira yelling “ALEXA TURN ON SOMETHING ROMANTIC” is very funny to me.
- If you aren’t familiar with Jessica Hecht or Josh Pais, you might be without realizing it. Hecht is forever beloved by me for playing the OG Ross Gellar hater, Susan Bunch (and has appeared in many things since). Josh Pais is one of those “hey, that guy!” actors (and according to IMDb, this is his third “Ira”). This is where I will recommend you watch Adventureland on Netflix, in which he plays Kristen Stewart’s Dad – not too different from this role, but funnier. I also think fans of the intimate character moments of High Maintenance will like that movie a lot! I really do.
- Yay, next week features comedian Kate Berlant! (Coincidentally she was just in an episode of the other show I review, Alone Together).