Despite its freewheeling style and anthology structure, High Maintenance still adopts necessary formula to provide audiences a point of entry. In any given episode, we know that a pot smoker will struggle with the trials and tribulations of daily life, and The Guy will appear in some capacity. With those simple rules in mind, series creators Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair keeps things fast and loose, preferring to explore stories without any stringent constraints.
“Grandpa” breaks from that formula fairly well. It doesn’t quite focus on weed at all, but rather bakes a stoned perspective into its premise.
This week’s episode is from the perspective of Gatsby, a happy-go-lucky dog who loves the outdoors and being active. He moves from the Midwest to Queens after his owner Chase (Ryan Woodle) gets a new job and breaks up with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, culture clash hits them both: Gatsby discovers that he no longer has the space or freedom to be his fun self, and Chase succumbs to utter loneliness in his new home. Things change when Chase hires Beth (Yael Stone, who appeared in the web series), an upbeat dog walker, to get Gatsby out of the apartment during the day, and suddenly Gatsby develops a crush on the gentle new soul in his life.
It’s admittedly a silly concept — dog develops puppy love — but Blichfeld and Sinclair make it work by taking Gatsby’s feelings toward Beth very seriously and also subtly winking at its absurdity, like when Beth drinking water creates an image in Gatsby’s mind of a beautiful woman dancing in a field. Since we’re watching the world through Gatsby’s eyes, we feel his longing in the interim time between Beth’s departure at the end of the day and her return the following afternoon. (Blichfeld and Sinclair play with the notion that dogs don’t have a strong conception of time.) He becomes depressed whenever Beth is not around, ignoring Chase and resenting his need for “quick walks” rather than luxurious strolls. It’s funny and sweet to see Gatsby navigate his feelings for Beth — out of protective instinct, he barks at a stranger who recognized her on the street — while also yearning for her presence whenever she’s not around. (It goes without saying that much of this works because the dog who plays Gatsby is adorable and expressive in ways that on-screen dogs tend to be.) “Grandpa” also features Blichfeld and Sinclair’s best direction to date, taking advantage of New York City’s parks to define the sunny mood of the episode, with the peak being an extended sequence where a man blows bubbles on a gorgeous afternoon.
But just when Gatsby settles into a routine with Beth, she decides to invite The Guy over to Chase’s apartment to drink a couple beers and smoke a joint without anyone’s permission. Chase, having a camera set up in the kitchen to see if Gatsby was eating out of the trash, finds out and fires her without letting Gatsby or Beth say good-bye. Locked in a cage for the day, Gatsby descends into despondency, refusing to even look at Chase when he asks to take him out for a walk. After realizing Chase isn’t providing him with the resources he requires, he runs away and joins a group of dumpster divers who play bucket drums in the park. He finally gets to experience the outdoors all day, even if it’s as “Grandpa” as opposed to “Gatsby.”
There are some issues here and there with “Grandpa,” mainly that Gatsby’s perspective precludes any real understanding of Chase beyond his actions. This is by design, of course, but the episode falls into a predictable pattern where Chase becomes the de facto villain even though his firing of Beth, while possibly an overreaction, is relatively understandable.
On the whole, it’s a sweet episode designed to explore the world through alien eyes, entirely in line with the High Maintenance approach. The closing moments of Gatsby letting Beth go with The Guy are perfectly pitched, ending the episode on a bittersweet, melancholic note. People walk in and out of others’ lives, like wisps of smoke catching the light before they inevitably disappear.
Stems and Seeds:
- The song that plays at the end of the episode is “Dream Baby Dream” by the band Suicide. (R.I.P. Alan Vega)
- The moment when Gatsby comforts Chase after finding him crying on the couch is quite touching.
- In case you want more snippets of Beth, she appears in episodes “Esme” and “Sabrina” from the web series.
- Midway through the episode, The Guy delivers to a bunch of virtual-reality developers. He watches some violent, horrifying stuff and asks why anyone would want to see that. Their pitch-perfect response: “We see it as having an application towards empathy training for prisoners, you know, to help them relate to their victims.”
- Beth humorously chastises The Guy for making light of the death of Azaria Chamberlain with his cheeky, “That dingo better not eat that baby” line. “I didn’t see the movie, I just know the quote,” he says.