Even if you have the luxury of choosing where you live, neighbors are thrust upon you. In urban environments especially, people with different cultural and social mores are often forced to live in close proximity. Inevitably, conflicts arise as differences emerge. This is far from a radical statement, but it’s a nice jumping-off point for this week’s stellar High Maintenance episode. “Museebat” follows two sets of neighbors with vastly different experiences: A Muslim family with a niece who’s living a double life, and a white married couple who swing on the weekends with their friends.
The first half of “Museebat,” which means “trouble” in Urdu, focuses on Eesha (Shazi Raja), a college student living with her aunt and uncle, struggling to find pot after her connect falls through. She lives a double life that’s typical of most Westernized first-generation immigrants who engage with American culture outside the home, but are “perfect children” as soon as they return to the family. When she’s out with her friends, she smokes cigarettes, drinks booze, and goes out dancing. At home, she quietly studies and promises her aunt that she won’t stay up too late. Though it’s a standard situation for kids who grow up in immigrant households, Eesha brings her smoking habit a little too close to home and the duality collapses.
Series creators Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair capture Eesha’s conflicted routine without falling into convenient and easy narrative traps. For one thing, Eesha doesn’t resent her family nor think of them as backwards-minded people. In fact, her aunt and uncle are fairly permissive: They let Eesha go out whenever she wants and encourage their own daughter to take off her head scarf when she’s in the house. (She refuses because she likes it.) They seem to implicitly understand the trials and tribulations of being a young person in New York. When Eesha’s aunt tells Eesha that she smells cigarettes on her clothes, she promises not to tell her mother and only asks that she keep it away from her house and children.
But Blichfeld and Sinclair also depict the difficulties of a free spirit confined to live in such a claustrophobic space. Eesha’s mother didn’t want her daughter living in the dorms, so she’s forced to be extra secretive around her family, which only creates more and more disconnect between her two lives. In the most telling scene of the episode, Eesha catches The Guy heading up to her neighbors’ place when she and her aunt take out the garbage. She quickly rushes upstairs and changes out of her traditional clothes into Western garb — low-cut shirt, nose ring, etc. — so she can pass as a regular customer. The Guy refuses to sell to her, but tells her to go ask her neighbors for pot. Cut to Eesha on the roof toking up and enjoying the nice day, complete with music and nail polish, without a care in the world. It’s the most beautiful scene in the episode because it depicts Eesha at her most comfortable, free of familial ties and responsibilities.
The second and more comedic half of “Museebat” focuses on Eesha’s neighbors, middle-aged couple Leo (Lee Tergesen) and Gigi (Amy Ryan), who are told some disconcerting news on the eve of Leo’s birthday party. Leo has tested positive for chlamydia, putting him completely on edge before the big evening. He only gets more agitated when he finds out that Gigi invited the cross-dressing author Colin (Dan Stevens) and his wife Becky (Blichfeld), who first appeared in the web series episode “Rachel.” Though Blichfeld and Sinclair hold the reason for Leo’s tension close to the chest, once the party kicks in to high gear, it becomes clear: He has to disclose his STD to everyone because they’ve been engaging in group sex.
The comedy in this storyline relies on being introduced to the action through two different perspectives: Leo and Gigi’s, and then Colin and Becky’s. First, we follow Leo and Gigi as they bicker about the Moroccan-themed night and their recent diagnosis. It’s standard marital discord with funny dialogue and committed performances — Tergesen’s general frustration vs. Ryan’s collected demeanor — but with hints for what’s to come, like Gigi’s pointed flirtation with Colin at an afternoon lunch. As soon as we get to the party, we see it mostly through the eyes of Colin and Becky, the “new” couple who don’t quite know what they’ve gotten themselves into. As soon as Lee awkwardly announces his diagnosis, the audience becomes an outsider, looking in on the group’s intimate fight as Colin and Becky quickly try to exit.
Naturally, it ends with the two plots coming together for a brief button at the end of the episode. Eesha’s uncle bangs on the door and berates them for bringing drugs into the building. Lee legitimately feigns ignorance, but when the uncle shows him the dime bag he found on the roof, which Eesha obviously pinned on the couple, Lee just chuckles. “This is pot! This isn’t drugs!” he says obnoxiously, before slamming the door on his face. Pot might be the recurring motif in High Maintenance, but the series’ interest in cultural difference reigns supreme.
Stems and Seeds:
- For those who haven’t seen “Rachel” yet, it’s a great introduction to Colin and Becky’s relationship as well as Colin’s cross-dressing. In the episode, Colin struggles with writer’s block and finds himself more enamored by dressing in women’s clothes, but still feels uncomfortable expressing himself in public. That changes when he lets The Guy see him in a dress and he responds positively: “Your taste is … it works, man! I’m like, ‘Where’s my dress?’”
- Gigi and her friends find The Guy attractive. “He looks like a young John Malkovich. The Killing Fields!”
- The funniest gag in the episode might be Eesha’s uncle catching a quick glimpse of Colin in a head scarf. He’s completely and utterly confused.
- Leo didn’t want to tell the group about his chlamydia because he assumed they all have it. He tries to put a rosy spin on the news by saying they can “play” and “get better together,” to which one woman correctly responds, “Get better together? Are you fucking serious, Leo? That’s so irresponsible. And that’s not how it works, you fuckin’ idiot.”