The first three episodes of High Maintenance, the highly-acclaimed web series about a pot dealer that you should definitely be watching, were uploaded to Vimeo almost exactly two years ago. To create them, a skeleton crew worked for free, and in multiple roles: actors doubled as PAs, friends directed episodes, strangers held cords and lights. The show’s creators, the married couple Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, had no expectations that anyone beyond their friends and families would ever see the episodes. They just thought it would be fun, and if it got Sinclair, an actor, more work, all the better.
Two years (and 13 episodes) later, High Maintenance remains a labor of love produced largely by friends. But many, many more people have seen it. As Blichfeld and Sinclair prepare to release the next cycle of episodes—three of them, on November 11, this time on Vimeo On Demand—there might not be a show with as many good vibes surrounding it as High Maintenance. And last night, at Pioneer Works for the premiere of the new episodes, the love was evident.
Everything is bigger for High Maintenance now: the audience, the cast and crew (the majority of whom seem to be in attendance at the premiere), and the budget. Earlier this year, Blichfeld and Sinclair signed with Vimeo, who pledged financial backing for six episodes (three more are coming in January).
The premiere was an out-and-out celebration. Outside of Pioneer Works, Vimeo had parked an enormous van, on the side of which spanned the brightest LED display I’ve ever seen, cycling through highlights from the series so far. Inside, it was packed; at least 600 people were there. The vibes were overwhelmingly feel-good, with little of the grim networking and social jockeying that normally attends these kinds of things. One got the sense that all of the attendees were friends, or would be within minutes. They mixed and mingled over free Sixpoint, free pizza and tacos, and free cocktails mixed with New Amsterdam vodka and Owney’s rum.
For the main event, everyone crammed into the main exhibition space of the former iron works factory, where, at the far end, a gigantic screen loomed over a stage. After a brief introduction by a programmer for Rooftop Films, a sponsor of the event, the episodes began. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the new episodes are every bit as funny, poignant, sad and endearing as the 13 that got the show such a devoted following. The characters, two of whom recur from previous episodes, personalize different iterations of the same neuroses that make watching High Maintenance such a recognizable experience as a New Yorker. There’s also the funniest set piece in the entire series so far, an unfortunate dinner date incident involving capsaicin.
Afterward, Sinclair and Blichfeld took the stage, to tremendous applause, for a Q&A. They seemed overwhelmed by the support. “We’re surprised to be here right now,” Blichfeld said. “You should see what this looks like from our vantage point.”
It’s just as easy to like Blichfeld and Sinclair as it is to love their show. They come off as refreshingly down-to-earth, by turns earnest, sarcastic, honest, and as surprised about and grateful for their success as you or I would be, if we found ourselves standing in front of an adoring crowd. “We’re emotional people,” Blichfeld said. They thanked Vimeo for providing them with the means to actually pay the cast and crew, and then asked everyone who’s ever worked on one of the episodes to stand up. It felt like a third of the room rose.
In response to a question about their relationship to Brooklyn (the couple live in Ditmas Park), Sinclair said living in Brooklyn is all about “communal complaining,” echoing a sentiment he expressed in a profile for our sister publication, The L Magazine. “We complain so much about all this bullshit. Then we work it out in the episodes.”
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.