The first two episodes of High Maintenance’s third season are the first episodes to be directed solely by one of the co-creators and they ultimately end up splitting the show’s qualities into two distinct packages. Episode one, directed by Katja Blichfeld, was an installment leaning heavily on the show’s strengths in characterization and their confidence in measured pacing and lack of traditional conflict. It also exhibited one of two structures they tend to use: the intermingling of the episode’s two stories throughout the episode.
On the other hand, the second episode “Craig,” directed by Ben Sinclair, is purely a comedic episode, frequently demonstrating the show’s particular offbeat and surreal sense of humor. The episode also reverts back to the more classical structure for each episode, which is to feature two different stories and devote one half of the episode to each character, with a superficial thread uniting each story.
My personal preference leans towards the High Maintenance seen in “M.A.S.H.”, rather than “Craig,” because I think that is where the show shines, and often in ways other shows fail to reach. A lot of modern TV comedies traffic in the absurd and irreverent, so it feels a bit less fresh to me when High Maintenance stacks an episode full of it. Of course, when the show really excels is when they write a story that has the detailed characterizations and grounded moments of pathos, with bizarre humor sprinkled throughout like seasoning.
“Craig” is an episode made entirely of that seasoning, so while there’s a bit too much flavor, there is at least flavor. The first half of the episode follows Marty (Gary Richardson, last seen in last season’s “Ghost”) who falls asleep on the job, gets a flat tire, and then gets his bike stolen. Most hilariously, he thinks he sees Temple Grandin at the bike shop—a moment that occurred exactly one second after I thought “this woman is dressed like Temple Grandin.” He invites over the Guy to refresh his stash and then, while looking for his stolen bike on Craigslist, he starts buying an endless amount of junk. He ends up meeting a man for a pair of Sedan seats (why?) and falls asleep while cleaning the blood off, only to wake up without knowing how to get out. He ends up having to climb over a mountain of tires and comes across a steel-drum group performance. While applauding their performance he realizes his hands are covered in his own blood (the sound of bloody hands clapping is a memorable sound). Then he wakes up, back in his apartment with the Guy. It all results in the joke—already delivered in the preview for this week—that the Guy, Marty’s seller, suggests Marty stop smoking weed.
The second half of the episode feels potentially more interesting on a character level, but ultimately ends up working as a punch line set-up. Darby (Catherine Cohen) is a bizarre New York-brand of loner, who spends most of her time selling random items on Craigslist (often stolen away from work), inviting the buyers to her apartment to pick them up and then casually and without comment flashing them one boob seemingly just to mess with them and see how they will react.
She writes a post in the “Missed Connections” section, laughing while she writes a post which includes the lines: “They say one person out of 25 is a sociopath. There were 50 people on that train… Was it us?” Lo and behold, the guy who responds might very well be a sociopath to match Darby. Darby meets the guy (Bobby Mareno) while wearing a short blonde wig, which he calls out after seemingly appearing to be a pretty “normcore” gentleman. They skip out on paying for their drinks after the fire alarm goes off and wander around while getting to know each other. The guy tells a story—who knows if it’s true?—about how he “saved his twin’s life in the womb” only to drive drunk 18 years later and be the reason for that twin’s death. It’s an unsettling moment, but Darby seems into it, which makes perfect sense.
They go into a convenience store to buy a homeless man some food, and Darby goes to make another boob flash specifically for the guy. She turns back around to where he was and he’s gone out the front door. The cashier notices her with a sly “what the fuck?” and she actually seems startled, if not a little embarrassed for the first time, and covers her breast right back up. It’s an interesting, and surprising, moment, seeing this seemingly unflappable character get bested by someone possibly more deranged than her. Unfortunately, by that point, the episode is over and because of our limited time spent getting to know who the characters are beyond what we saw in the quick scenes that served the jokes we aren’t left at the end with anything much beyond a satisfying chuckle.
High Maintenance is good at the jokes. It’s also great at the character beats and it excels when the two elements are blended seamlessly together. A half hour of straight surrealism and comedy is fine, but it falls short of what High Maintenance can do when they’re using every tool in the toolbox.
- The episode was written by Isaac Oliver and Zack Schamberg and directed by Ben Sinclair. Similar to last week, this is Sinclair’s debut as a solo director.
- The episode title refers to that infamous Craig with the List.
- The final credit scene continues the bizarre with the Barrack Obama look-alike, briefly spotted driving a cab, painting the Guy like one of his French girls, necklace and all.
- The final song is “Plantasia” by Mort Garson, which was the song Abdullah was playing during the car wash.
- I think the old man who mistook the Guy for his son (in the season two episode “Ghost”) is briefly spotted in the hallway of Marty’s building here—talking about his son, set to visit on July 4th.
- My favorite reactions to Darby’s flashing are from the first customer, Vuyo, who just says “Really?” and the woman who seems concerned for Darby and says “Uh-uh, baby, your blouse!” in such a perfectly calibrated voice mixed with surprise, concern, and exasperation.