High Maintenance’s fourth season continues on its rollercoaster trajectory, with each fresh and original episode being followed by an installment that leans a bit too hard into its deepest Brooklyn setting and tendencies. “Screen,” like “Voir Dire” two weeks ago, is split into definitive halves. In the classic High Maintenance model, the thin thread connecting each segment is the Guy and his presence. However, to my surprise, the segment in which the Guy barely figures is the more interesting and exciting installment.
High Maintenance has been consciously giving us more plots in which the Guy is a major player since its move to HBO and, for the most part, I’ve liked that. Ben Sinclair is a talented multi-hyphenate and he has a great screen presence. However, I’m beginning to think that maybe I don’t like the Guy as much as I thought I did. Rather, perhaps the problem is that while we have seen the Guy navigate relationships, dog-ownership, post-divorce life, and general human ennui, the existence and function of the character has always relied on the fact that we don’t know his name. The Guy was always meant to be a kind of symbolic thread uniting a New York community of disparate people, like the lighter in “Backflash.”
However, when we see so much more of this Guy’s life and aren’t able to ever really get close to him, it can become frustrating. We’re always at a remove and when we have to spend more time with him, as we do here, it can be difficult to know how we’re supposed to feel about him because we don’t know him. In the second half of “Screen,” he seems just as annoying as the ultra-bohemian Brooklynites he’s surrounded by and whom High Maintenance used to assess with a sharper eye. In “Screen,” The Guy appears to be the awkward outsider who may be ruining a party, rather than the unifying force he has been in the past and we can’t even say whether that’s how he always is or not.
Since we’re here, we can discuss the second half of the episode first. The Guy runs into an old friend and fellow bike courier, Jackson (Lucas Papaelias), who uses his early Postmates stock money to live in a swanky apartment commune with his partners Mikhael (Riti Sachdeva) and Sharona (Gloria Bess), and daughter Powder (Penelope Poumpouras). The Guy immediately stands out through his awkward joke-making as Mikhael shows him their works of art. He is also wearing his messy gardening clothes and is drenched in sweat, which further marks him apart from the commune members who are all fresh and clean, if not dressed in flowing white linen. As the party goes on, Jackson and the Guy share some pot for old times’ sake (Mikhael lets Jackson indulge with his “bike buddy”) while sharing a hot tub with Sharona.
The party then, naturally, devolves into the group watching YouTube videos projected on their large screen. Why is it that this happens at so many parties? My strong personal bias is coming through because, for whatever reason, I have a passionate aversion to people making me watch YouTube videos, especially in groups. At this point, the party seems especially like a place I don’t want to be; then, Jackson passes out. His fainting is ridiculous because he did just smoke as The Guy says, “regular pot,” but part of me suspects it was partially a draw for Sharona’s attention. As the group watches videos, the Guy and Sharona sit alongside each other, chatting and flirting, while Jackson sits apart from the group looking increasingly anxious. This could be the pot, but it could also be the anxiety of a man whose pretty pet is playing with someone else.
The tiredness of two men competing for an enigmatic woman’s attention becomes increasingly exhausting after Jackson faints and Sharona escorts Powder upstairs. The Guy follows her to shoot his shot once again. Of course, while this party goes on and on, poor little Fomo the dog is stuck in a room with a Roomba. While nothing terrible happens, she does poop and naturally, the Roomba attempts to clean it up. What results is that the Roomba spreads fresh dog poop around on the presumably expensive carpet. After Mikhael discovers this — after a bizarre moment in which the Guy accidentally rips out some of Powder’s hair during a Just Dance flourish — it’s time for the Guy to leave. The purpose of this unpleasant entry into the privileged classes of Brooklyn isn’t very clear. All that we’re left with is the chore of sitting through a party any millennial has had to suffer through variations of before, though this one has the added frustration of watching our lone consistent protagonist be that person at a party who overstays their welcome.
There isn’t much to say about the first half of the episode, except that it is quite charming and very different in tone than the second half. Young Alvin (Tremaine Brown Jr.) keeps to himself and obsesses over stylish sneakers. The opening of this segment is smartly directed, as the camera flows through the street by tracking everyone’s shoes. Once it reaches Alvin’s feet, the camera pans up and follows its subject. Alvin wins some new Travis Scott shoes (which sell for $1250?!), and his cousin Connie (Brandon Gilpin) leads him on an assignment to sell the second pair to any schmuck who’s trying to buy the sold-out pairs in a shoe store.
Ironically, on the way home, the boys get drawn into a pick-up basketball game. This echoes what Alvin’s father remarked to him earlier, how absurd it is that he spends money on these “basketball shoes” but doesn’t play ball. In this game, Alvin gets the chance to briefly live the lifestyle his shoes would indicate he has. The sequence is simple, but lovely, as we watch shy Alvin become increasingly excited about the game. Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs” plays and builds until Alvin shoots and scores. The genuine thrill he gets from this win is terrific to see and, on his walk home with Connie, we see that Alvin’s success has him fully broken out of his shell, walking down the street with new swagger. It’s a subtle, sweet snapshot of a moment in a young man’s life and it’s the kind of genuine moment among the grind of the every day that make High Maintenance special.
- The episode was written by Gary Richardson & Ben Sinclair, and directed by Ben Sinclair. Richardson has acted on the show before, in “Ghost” and “Craig.”
- It’s always mildly unsettling to hear “Les Fleurs” post-Us, but hipsters have weirdly reclaimed this song in the past several years, so I’m not surprised to hear it here.
- The credits are the opossum massage YouTube video. The song is “Rapar Wuon Osimbo (Jaakko Eino Kalevi edit)” by C.K. Jazz Band.
- The title can refer to the screens people are preoccupied with this episode (Alvin’s phone, his Dad’s TV, the projection screen at the party). But, apparently, “Screen” is also a basketball term! I literally would never have known.
- Ben Sinclair got to live my dream this week and go to the Criterion Closet! The video is great because Sinclair mentions a few film influences on High Maintenance as well as some wild stories from his past.