I love High Maintenance, particularly seasons 2 and 3, when I felt the show had really found and fine-tuned it’s voice and style, while still not shying away from trying new and unexpected ideas. I could rave about everything I loved about this show for pages, but I’m writing this in the slim hope that someone involved with the show will somehow see a loving fan’s critique of the stark and drastic failings of season 4, in the even slimmer hopes that they might consider taking strides to return to the wonderful work they were doing before.
Season 4 felt strikingly weak and disappointing to me personally for several reasons I am willing and able to expand on. 1. The writing felt lazier. 2. The celebrity cameos felt distracting and masturbatory. 3. The main plot thread as I understood and appreciated it up until now was barely there, like, below the bare minimum.
1. Where I could previously say that the show was honing its style and perfecting a formula that remained fresh and compelling throughout seasons 1-3, season 4 felt a bit like a lazy, hack-neyed, almost cynical copy-paste of the superficial trappings of the previous seasons, but without any of the heart and soul that made each previous season remain compelling and interesting even as I grew used to the overall style. Few of the new individual stories had the same polished combination of the ordinary and extraordinary that made each glimpse into the diverse lives of human beings feel both relatable and remarkable in the past. It often felt like the writers were just ticking off boxes to combine a formulated chart-graph of diversity, life-events, drama and comedy, without the depth or nuance of previous seasons. On a more simple but undeniable/objective level of critique - there were some plain and obvious instances when the writers were lazily stalling and stretching out scenes and sequences to fill out episodes with fluff, for lack of real writing or art. Examples that come to mind include montages of characters repeating daily routines far longer than necessary for the audience to get the point, digest it, and search for any deeper points, in vain, just waiting for it to end. The singing telegram gig-worker’s comical song-and-dance to illustrate the joy and relief of finally finding a bathroom after holding it in for hours was funny, at first, then felt drawn out and stretched beyond good taste to simply capitalize on the climax of the episode the writers didn’t have anything more to follow up with, or put before it. And when a sex-addict took too many drugs and proceeded to have a goofy, psychedellic music-video trip; this went on WAY too long, like above and beyond the other examples above, this scene was pathetic. It dragged out extraordinarily while the joke and any plot element it held fell flat, it wasn’t funny, relatable, or otherwise interesting, at all, dead on arrival. Truly a legible waste of airtime. And is it just me or did some new hire for the writing staff convince the directors that silly out-of-body music-video comedy routines were the way to go this season, and all the touching, impressively-realistic slice-of-life respectability they’ve earned over the last three years be damned?
2. There were at least two big celebrity cameos that completely stole the show in their respective episodes, and not in a good way. I loved and admired High Maintenance for its seemingly-down-to-earth and relatable depictions of all the highs and lows of real life for ordinary people of all stripes - sparing us the tired and self-indulgent glamor or “behind the scenes” glimpses of the famous. Our culture is saturated, flooded, smothered, and beaten to death with the circle-jerk celebration of celebs. This show felt like a smart, deliberate and brillaintly-executed escape from all that; virtually devoid of any recognizable or house-hold-name stars. The fact that these celebrities are shown playing themselves and are not the main characters of their episodes does nothing to dampeb my utter frustration and disgust with this seeming abandonment of one of the founding tenets of this show’s whole vibe. In short, these cameos completely took me out of the stories, and I lost a tremendous amount of respect for this show due to this star-f*cking masturbation of theirs.
3. Finally, Where was The Guy this whole season??? I know that previous seasons had plenty of episodes where The Guy barely made cameos (but that was virtually always compensated for by stellar stories that left me more than satisfied), but this season it felt like he was Barely there at all, and more to the point, his personal story arc took nary a half step forward. The Guy’s navigation through life is the main plot thread that lends the show a subtle, but necessary sense that even as we enjoy our wide-wanderings, this journey is actually going somewhere. In previous seasons (particularly 2 and 3) it felt like the writers were carefully and thoughtfully building up toward something, slowly at first, but with bigger and lengthier spurts forward and upward in terms of our glimpses into The Guy’s life. Season 4? I think I can summarize everything (in)significant The Guy got: he joined a community garden. He got a dog. He had a long (pretty meh episode by the way) bad night embarrassing himself with some of the people from the community garden. And we met one of his neices, and he decided to give her his dog (wtf, what kind of cold-blooded self-centered “i have to have my freedom, life is just a journey, attachments and relationships come and go” disorder do you have to have to just give away your dog?) and he says he’s going to go on vacation to New Zealand - if the next season forsakes NYC for NZ to follow The Guy, it will be like trading one blasphemy against the show’s very soul for another).
My sharp and harsh critiques did not all explode into existence the moment I watched episode 1. I started this season thrilled for more of one of my favorite current series. My disappointment grew in small drops and festering afterthoughts, second looks and deeper analysis. It gives me no pleasure to tear into this show, but I do it out of love and the incredibly unlikely chance that someone with the power to influence the trajectory of future seasons will read this and take my cry for justice to heart. All that being said; it wasn’t ALL bad. There were a few hits among the many misses, and I will still tune in to Season 5 in hopes of more of the things I love about High Maintenance, and either less of these poor choices I described above, or, at the very least, some sort of change to improve whatever it is the writers think they are trying to do.
Thank you for reading.