After a year away—a blessedly shorter time apart than what separated seasons one and two—the third season of High Maintenance returns in comfortably familiar fashion. While the prior two HBO season premieres have tried premises that are a little bigger than what High Maintenance usually traffics in, involving various guest stars and the unexpected meth use of “Meth(od)” and unifying tragedy of “Globo,” season three returns comparatively gently. The quietude is welcome, however, as it’s a reminder of what High Maintenance does that no other show can quite replicate.
What High Maintenance is so good at is drawing a detailed, realistic portrayal of an individual’s life in a short amount of time. The premiere does this right away with the establishing shots of Berg and his home and routine up to his death moments later. We can tell right away based on the music playing, the weed smoking, his beard and his ease of walking nude around his house that Berg is an aged, but comfortable, hippie. Shots of a toilet seat held together with duct tape, crumbling wall paint and a sequence of Berg carrying boiling water to fill his bathtub indicate that Berg lives modestly, but his relaxed routine signals that he doesn’t mind and just isn’t concerned with those kinds of things.
Perhaps because of the beard and pot-smoking, or perhaps because of our quick introduction and farewell to Berg, for a brief moment, I thought this scene was a “flash-forward” to the end of the Guy’s life. It isn’t, because High Maintenance doesn’t do timeline confusion, but if the Guy plays it right he could very well end up with an ending like this, and it’s not a bad one. Berg gets high in the tub, remarks “far out,” and fades away after a presumed heart attack.
The connection to the Guy is made clear soon, as the Guy was headed up to visit Berg in upstate New York while on the RV road trip we saw him embark on at the end of season two. Instead of reuniting with Berg, the Guy attends his wake. Here we get more of what High Maintenance is good at and that’s highlighting the best parts of humanity. The community and the warmth on display here is not an unfamiliar sight on High Maintenance, and it is one of the reasons I am so glad this show is airing during the cold, lonely, dark months of winter where it is so easy to become exhausted with everyone and everything.
Berg’s friends gather, eat, drink and reminisce about their friend while singing songs and leaving flowers and records at a shrine for the old man. High Maintenance never shies away from recognizing the possible annoyance of old and young hippies, and deftly does so here by showing a few wake guests who seem supremely annoyed or tired of the enthusiastic singing of the other guests. Even the Guy seems less enthused, but he plays along as he is wont to do and chimes in on the triangle.
At the wake is where we become more acquainted with the other protagonist of the episode. Cori (Erin Markey), the neighbor and sort of surrogate daughter, of Berg has been deeply affected by the loss of this man. We get glimpses of Cori’s life that indicate she might have been involved in sex work or other not-totally-legal activities before, which explains further why she adored Berg so much for his open heart and mind. Her speech at the wake hits hard because she more or less says that he was family to her, and she was family to him because they both lacked a solid blood family. High Maintenance excels at illustrating the appeal and necessity of found families and they do so here with exceeding warmth and care.
The episode has a generally slow pace, but it is fully earned. Outside of watching Cori slowly drift through her grief, a process that often feels fast and so slow simultaneously, we follow the Guy on his woodsy vacation. We watch him drive, hammock in the woods, steer a paddleboat and browse Tinder. Eventually, he makes a connection with a woman (Britt Lower) first glimpsed at a gas station, and later glimpsed riverside meditating. The Guy not-so-subtly checks her out during that second glimpse and it turns out the woman noticed him, too. She finds him at his RV and asks if “that was weed I smelled earlier” and introduces herself as Lee.
In the way that Berg and Cori connected naturally and over easy activities like watching original Doctor Who episodes with some beer, weed, and pizza, The Guy and Lee smoke together, eat some dinner, and touch on Lee’s ongoing divorce and the Guy’s past one. The Guy spends the night in a separate room in her house, but there is a subtle romantic connection sparking between them. The next day Lee and the Guy say goodbye after some local shopping and after Lee tells him that she is actually pregnant with her ex’s kid, and “it’s pretty messy.” Undeterred, as he always is by any new or interesting experience, the Guy agrees to meet her in a few days when she’ll be in the city. They share an adorably chaste moment of hand-holding and kissing before finally saying goodbye.
It’s a very sweet, natural and warm way for the season premiere to end and I think it spells good things for this season in general. I like that this episode continues the trend started last season of serialized storytelling for the Guy and, in particular, his personal life. The show becomes a richer experience when we get to see the Guy, our constant, grow and change through the years as we do, rather than remain stuck and static as everything else around him changes and moves forward.
The episode ends on a high note with Cori finding a mix Berg made for her and laughing at the silliness and sweetness of the first track. The same mix plays on Berg’s CD for the Guy which plays in his RV stereo. The song is “Les Amis” (the friends) by Francois de Roubaix. It’s a sweet, simple song for an endlessly sweet, but deceptively complex show like High Maintenance. In one episode people say goodbye, they say hello, and both experiences feel equally hopeful and warm. That’s what High Maintenance has to offer, and I’ll take it every time.
- This episode was written by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, naturally, and directed by Katja Blichfeld. This is her first solo directing credit since the fifth web episode, “Helen,” from 2013.
- The credits song is a remix of “Les Amis” by Actual Magic, and the end credits scene is a return to the wake attendees jam-banding it up.
- The song Berg listens to while he dies is “Smoke Big Factory” by The Guess Who
- Cori goes through her routine with Berg alone, and the episode of Doctor who she watches finds the Doctor saying goodbye to his companion Sarah Jane. It’s quite an apt, and sad, episode for Cori to watch.
- The title refers to the game of M.A.S.H. which the Guy and Lee play. Lee will marry Angela Merkel, have 2,001 kids, and live in a shack with a self-driving car.