In Nora Effron’s 1989 romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally, the charmingly chauvinistic Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) casually divides all women into two groups: low maintenance and high maintenance. "What kind am I?" Sally inquires as they watch Casablanca together over the phone. “You're the worst kind," Harry responds. "You're high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance.” "Well," Sally retorts, "I just want things the way I want them."
"I know," Harry says, "high maintenance."
While it might take a rather large needle to thread together the 25-year-old-mother-of-all-rom-coms with the web series sensation High Maintenance, both dig into similar archetypes, albeit separated by many years: the anxious, charmingly neurotic, pseudo-nihilistic, fully-exasperated New Yorker. And if When Harry Met Sally represents the pinnacle of the Hollywood rom-com, then High Maintenance might very well represent the pinnacle of the comedic web series.
One caveat though … High Maintenance isn't exactly a comedy, per se. Created by the husband and wife team of Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, the show is actually quite difficult to sum up, which is part of what makes it so good. Each episode (there are 22 in total - 16 are free, six you can purchase on Vimeo, and all will soon be on HBO) has different characters and independent story lines. They cross race, class, and age to delve into a range of issues, from cancer to cults to cross dressing to some mysterious bitch named Olivia who thinks she’s a fucking artist. Some episodes are tender and sweet; some are quiet and sad; some are dramatic; and some are incisively hilarious. What they do share is "The Guy," a pot dealer played by Ben Sinclair who eventually shows up and gives both his clients – and the viewers – some of his trademark perspective. The New Yorker sums it up as, "luxurious and twisty and humane, radiating new ideas about storytelling."
Recently transplanted to Los Angeles, Ben and Katja were back in New York and up for a night out with Standard Culture. The "Assholes" (a.k.a the talented Max Jenkins and Heléne Yorke from the episode "Olivia") popped by and we all braved a frigid St. Patrick's evening of Chinese food and karaoke. What's it like to hang with the High Maintenance crew? Pretty goddamn fun. Here's how it all went down:
We started high up in The Penthouse of The Standard, East Village because, why not? Topics of conversation included the drought, "making it" in Hollywood, and the cultural juggernaut that is RuPaul and her Drag Race. Those empty bowls were momentarily filled with fries.
The view of the East Village from The Standard, East Village
Dinner was at the legendary Congee Village on Delancey and Bowery. The lower left dish on the lazy susan was fried frog legs, which really do taste just like chicken. From left to right: Ben Sinclair, Max Jenkins, Ben's childhood friend Chris Santamaria (whose art is used in one of the episodes) Heléne Yorke, and Katja Blichfeld
After dinner we decided to do some Karaoke. The "B" health code rating hanging in the window stands for "Brave."
Max, a self described "Ham," leaps onto the stage and belts out some Whitney Houston. An over-served St. Patrick's Day reveler joins him on stage. In fact, he kind of freaks everyone out, so we opt for a venue change.
Even famous people get stuck behind garbage trucks.
They write. They direct. They act. They sing! Like really, almost annoyingly well. Is there nothing they can't do?
The "assholes" are just as sassy and funny in real life as they are in their episode - decidedly less asshole-ly though.
Ah, a pleasant end to a great night out.
Photos: Jay Carroll