“Selfie” is a strange misfire for High Maintenance, if only because it’s one of the few times that the series feels slight and glib. Maybe it’s because Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld try to tackle too many issues in one episode — social-media addiction, race politics, intellectual-property theft, domestic anxiety — maybe it’s because they built an episode around guest stars Greta Lee and Hannibal Buress, or maybe it’s because the actual meat of each story feels too minor to have much impact. Nevertheless, “Selfie” is the only High Maintenance episode so far that’s almost entirely forgettable, even when it’s making good points.
The first story features Anja (Ismenia Mendes), a twentysomething “writer” of sorts who spends most of her time in coffee shops, spending money she doesn’t have, and posting pictures on Instagram. Blichfeld and Sinclair depict her fitting into a certain kind of cliché (she sports a New Yorker bag and eats a $26 burger) in a long montage that communicates her flightiness and her anxious procrastination. To put it mildly, Anja is distracted — not just by the internet, but also by the city around her. You can chock it up to finding inspiration in her environment, but her directionless day leading up to a one-on-one interview with the Guy suggests otherwise.
The scene when Anja sits down with the Guy to grill him about his feelings on the intersection between race and drugs feels like a weird attempt to address a problem in the series that doesn’t really exist. Sure, Anja’s points are sound: The Guy’s ability to skirt the law likely has something to do with his race and his mostly white customer base highlights the contrast between drug arrests across race lines, but the scene scans like a meta-commentary that Blichfeld and Sinclair don’t really need to make. High Maintenance features many typical white Brooklynites that read as “hipsters” on a cursory glance, but not only have they frequently featured nonwhite characters since the web series, they’ve also turned their eyes to nonwhite stories in the HBO series. High Maintenance is anything but myopic, and while the scene is funny because of Sinclair’s reactions to the gotcha questions thrown at the Guy, it feels defensive and unnecessary.
Then there’s the ending. Anja sits in bed to read her Elena Ferrante book, but stops to check her phone and bursts into tears. The obvious question to ask is, “Why is she crying?” Is it because she has spent so much time documenting her life online that she no longer has a grasp on her own reality? Is it because the Guy’s interview went south after she secretly took a picture of him in her apartment? Is it a Holly-Hunter-in-Broadcast-News thing where she cries every night? Is it depression? Is it fear? It could be any or all of these things, which is why it doesn’t have the impact that Blichfeld and Sinclair clearly want it to have. It’s not just that we don’t have enough insight into Anja’s character to understand why she’s upset. The story as a whole feels too half-baked (no pun intended) for it to have any real effect.
The next story has similar issues regarding triviality, and there’s a shallow component thrown in the mix, too. The story features the return of Homeless Heidi (Greta Lee), a woman who scams men online into buying her clothes and food and giving her a place to crash because she technically doesn’t have a residence. She first appeared in the web series episode “Heidi” when she appeared to be in a relationship with Mark (Kyle Harris), only for the Guy to come over and burst Mark’s bubble about her reputation. Though Heidi comes from wealth (her family owns some kind of frozen-yogurt empire), she chooses to be “homeless” because … it’s unclear, actually. For attention? For the stories? For free shit? It’s hard to say.
As a character, Heidi is good for a web episode or a recurring appearance here and there, and Greta Lee wonderfully embodies the role, but she’s not compelling enough to anchor an entire story, even one that involves Mark selling her life story for television. Now married to a wealthy man who pampers and supports her, Heidi sees a commercial for Mark’s TV show that basically takes the premise of the “Heidi” web episode and runs wild with it, complete with Brett Gelman as “The Guy.” Of course, she’s furious and confronts Mark on the street about it, though he obviously denies even knowing her, so she decides to lawyer up and sue him. For her case to have weight, though, she’ll need the Guy to testify in a deposition that they know each other.
Let’s start with a plausibility concern: I don’t really buy that the Guy would ever agree to testify in any deposition about his job, even if he was pissed that Gelman was playing him on TV without his permission. For someone so cautious and careful about his business, it feels out of character that he would ever allude to dealing drugs around lawyers. Mainly, however, Blichfeld and Sinclair don’t really provide a rooting interest in the story, which is rarely a concern when I’m watching this show, but it comes up here. Mark is an odious figure who tries to pass off other people’s stories as his own, but Heidi is just as bad. She cons guys out of money for the fun of it, moving from mark to mark whenever she gets discovered. Though the men she cons are often wealthy enough not to feel serious ramifications from her actions, it’s hard to muster up sympathy for her, even as a victim of intellectual-property theft. She neither needs the settlement money nor is she actually homeless, and while I suppose the fact that people should have control over their own life experiences is enough of a reason to side with her, “Selfie” doesn’t provide any interiority to the character. Her story doesn’t carry emotional weight.
In the last minutes of the episode, Blichfeld and Sinclair try to suggest that Heidi feels anxiety around her new domesticated life, and that her actions are the result of a deep sense of boredom. So what does she do? She pretends to be blind in a coffee shop in order to receive attention from people on the street. It’s mildly loathsome behavior that’s not funny or interesting enough to be worth much of anything, which incidentally is a good description of “Selfie” as a whole.
Stems and Seeds:
- Hannibal Buress’ cameo is funny because he’s Hannibal Buress. When Heidi calls her up, he’s just at his place watching his appearance on Broad City, which is inexplicably funny. He also describes Heidi as a “vagabond vagina peddler,” a great turn of phrase if there ever was one.
- There’s also a bit where The Guy tries to enter Buress’ place but is stopped by a P.A. on the set of Girls. It’s a sweet, funny scene that basically involves The Guy trying to buck up the P.A. who’s having a difficult time controlling the sidewalk.
- What was with the cheeky Homeless Heidi credits in the story? It just seemed silly to me.
- “I mean, that’s cool, I understand that’s important, but uh, just off the record, when I sat down to do this, you said you wanted me to tell you some fun stories about dealing weed, and not … um, race politics.”