Last week, I noticed that the whole personality of High Maintenance, as it were, was split in half over the first two episodes. The first episode was mostly heartfelt vulnerability, the second was surreal humor. The two halves finally start to meld together this week, with an episode that coincidentally (or not?) combines the talents of the writers of last week’s “Craig” with the director of “M.A.S.H.” What we get is a perfectly calibrated level of absurd versus honest in a short, subtle appreciation of the various kinds of people you bump up against in New York City, and how you find yourself bumping up against them.
The structure is also relatively loose, although it is closer to the half-and-half divide we saw last week. The first half, however, is itself kind of split into two with the introduction of the cutest kid, Raymond (Ethan Hutchison, Queen Sugar), and his kind-hearted attempts to stay busy and help out his mom at the café on his day off from school. His path eventually intersects with the Guy, who had spent his day on the top of his RV with familiar face Chad (Chris Roberti) before stepping inside the café. Raymond and the Guy’s interaction is cute and funny in a natural, off-kilter way. Raymond tries to tell the Guy “the good news” (about Jesus Christ), but the Guy isn’t interested and politely stems that conversation. Raymond is curious about the Guy’s painted toenails, which leads him to eventually ask “do you smell like a skunk?” To which the Guy says “yes, because my mother was a skunk.” It’s a sweet interaction, in which the Guy acts like many of us and not like an overly saccharine TV character. He’ll amuse this kid, sure, but it is kind of fun to mess with kids, especially when they inadvertently ask rude questions.
This segment of the episode is short and doesn’t really have a conflict, other than that Raymond is a little too kind and helpful for his own good—but it is nevertheless interesting to watch the strangers of the city through the young boy’s eyes. Through his eyes, everything is simple and everyone is kind. That is, until he helps too much and his mom tells him to stop wiping up a spill or a belligerent customer approaches his mother at the counter with loud complaints. And then he meets a man with toenail polish who says he’s half-skunk. Poor Raymond ultimately walks in on a woman vomiting in the bathroom and he tries to get help for her briefly before being told to just go back to his table—it’s implied that the woman is intentionally losing her lunch, which Raymond couldn’t understand. It’s a snapshot of a day in the life of this young boy, another day in which he finds himself acting like an adult and being treated like a kid, and seeing a lot of confusing people and things. This segment of the episode is a brief look at the kind of strange opportunities and interactions someone of any age could get experience on any given day in the city.
The larger part of the episode is intent on looking more specifically at the New York Apartment Experience. We are introduced here to Barbie (Annie Golden, most recently seen as the saintly Norma from Orange is the New Black), who is a true-blue city dweller, now a relic from the Old New York and impossible to extricate from the place. She came over in 1976 or so and still likes to dress up in her punk threads sometimes. When she’s not doing that, though, she is applying Jergens lotion to her feet, involving herself in the conspiracy community, saying “I have a comment and a question” at Q&As, and suing the city in various courts to win settlements.
However, we don’t know all of that about Barbie quite yet. When we meet her she seems okay, if a bit kooky. She moves in with Arthur (Arthur Meyer), the returning nudist customer, and the two bond over their visions of themselves as independent spirits. It isn’t long after until Barbie starts showing the classic signs of being a Bad Roommate. You know, the kind of roommate that doesn’t just forget to wash her dishes, but rather appears out of nowhere and accuses you of “cooking onions in her pan,” and who constantly applies lots of lotion to her feet in front of you.
Barbie’s full Bad Roommate-ness is fully exposed when she finds Arthur buying from the Guy. She is shocked and appalled and carries on that “this is a drug-free apartment, and if you’re not keeping it a drug-free apartment, I don’t have to pay!” Arthur’s incredulity through this exchange is so believable—there is nothing else he could say, except variations on “What?” He eventually retreats to his room, away from her threats of small claims court.
Later, Barbie appears at his door and is much calmer and kinder. She tells him she won’t sue and that she actually does enjoy living there. They’re getting along surprisingly well before she admits that she finished one of Arthur’s cookies lying on the table—a pot cookie, unbeknownst to her. Arthur decides not to tell her, and that’s likely for the best. She would have freaked out. Instead, they spend a few hours chatting in a naturally friendly, respectful way. The episode ends with Barbie walking out onto the rooftop and seemingly admiring the beautiful sunrise—until she mutters with her paranoiac gasp: “Chemtrails!”
Arthur and Barbie’s night of connection is the kind of occasional breakthrough you can have with someone like Barbie and only in a city as vast as New York. Everyone is so different and there is no guarantee that you will get along with each other—especially while co-habitating. But at the end of the day, you likely have at least one thing in common and that thing is whatever it is inside you that compels you to keep living in such a place. Barbie’s final comment is such a great capper to the episode, too, because even if you do have those moments of connection and commonality with someone different from you, you are still two different people at the end of the day. Barbie still looks at the sky and sees chemtrails instead of a sunrise and she will likely threaten to sue again the next time she has a disagreement with Arthur. But for a brief moment, she and Arthur were aligned, and those small moments of unexpected, organic connection are a High Maintenance specialty.
- This episode was written by Isaac Oliver and Zack Schamberg, with story credit to Katja Blichfeld, who also directed.
- The credits scene looks awesome and is a vision of the Guy selling out of his RV or “mobile dispensary.” The song is “Metro Phenomenon” by Sean Nicholas Savage.
- I slightly suspected this, but I wasn’t sure until I noticed the cast listed during the credits but there is a very quick reference to a past character during the opening montage of Raymond’s “work.” Mark (Kyle Harris), the writer seen in web-episode “Heidi” and season one’s “Selfie” is seen writing at the café! What detail.
- The title this week comes from two sources: the surfer bro (“Hey, Blondie!”) that Chad and the Guy spontaneously sell weed to off the street, and the photograph of Barbie and Debbie Harry (…of Blondie) back in the day.
- Barbie quizzes Arthur: “Richard Hell – what band?” He fails when he guesses The Ramones. This is a pretty bad guess, but it’s not an easy question to answer: Hell started in Television, then formed the Heartbreakers (not that one), and then the Voidoids (and some 90s project, Dim Stars, but eh). Please read Please Kill Me if any of this is remotely interesting.