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HBO's “High Maintenance” returns for its third season on Jan. 20, 2019, at 10:30 p.m. Unlike most marijuana-focused television shows, the cable series has gained critical acclaim for being a weed show that is actually good. Weedmaps News staff writer Andy Andersen writes about how “High Maintenance” successfully provides glimpses into the personal act of smoking weed to paint a portrait of the modern era of marijuana.

A Muslim college student, Eesha, escapes to the roof of a Brooklyn apartment building to light a bowl of weed. Her eyes light up with each long, savory hit from her pipe. A flock of birds float over a cathedral as she blissfully paints her toenails to pass the time in private. She's away from her religion, her parents, her studies — it's an exciting new chapter in a young person's life that a less-stoned person might take for granted.

Since its upgrade from a Vimeo web series to HBO's Sunday night TV lineup, “High Maintenance” has received attention from critics for being about “more than just weed.” But make no mistake — “High Maintenance” always has been a show about weed. The human stories in “High Maintenance” are what has turned it into an ongoing tale of American cannabis use in the post-legalization age.

From the looks of the new season's trailer, the series will continue to follow the bright-(albeit red-)-eyed, grizzly New York weed dealer known only as “the Guy” (played by the charismatic, warm series co-creator Ben Sinclair) as he weaves in and out of the lives of his Brooklyn clientele.

From “High Maintenance,” we get a sense that weed is everywhere, used by almost every type of American. We see it in the form of edibles, vape pens, prerolls, and of course, the traditional joint, bong, or pipe setup.

While it's true that “High Maintenance” covers far more territory in the lives of characters than just their consumption habits, it's the show's ability to tell a broad range of small, subtle stoner stories that shows us who smokes weed, how they smoke it, and what role it plays in their lives.

When you watch “High Maintenance,” you get a truly epic sense of how cannabis is an ever-present reality in modern American life.

Everyday People Use Weed, Everyday

As legal weed continues to spread throughout the U.S., so do the demographics of New Yorkers who openly smoke in “High Maintenance.” The show's second-season episode “Namaste” features a young couple navigating the class divide of their subsidized apartment building; “Derech,” follows a Vice writer and a young ex-Hasidic man. Weed pops up in both of these vignettes, giving a wider display of New York's stoner demographics.

Between the first and second seasons of “High Maintenance,” co-creators Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld ended their marriage and Blichfeld came out as a lesbian, recounting her marriage and sexuality in a January 2018 article for Vogue. Shades of their split can be seen in Season 2 as the Guy goes through the final steps of his own amicable yet heartbreaking divorce. Showing the happy-go-lucky Guy's private life marked a more intimate dimension, making every stoner on screen feel like a living, breathing person. This will come to absolutely no surprise to regular weed smokers, for they will recognize themselves in the characters “High Maintenance” focuses on.

In the Season 2 finale, after the Guy and his ex finalize their divorce papers and have final, bittersweet hug goodbye, the Guy is back on his bike and riding through Central Park, grinning zenlike at the sight of groups stretched out on blankets laughing and partying as they collectively await a solar eclipse. From the show's background characters to its central figure, marijuana touches virtually every aspect of life in “High Maintenance,” giving the viewer the sense that weed has finally been acknowledged (and maybe even embraced) in our broader society.     

In Private and in Public, People are Getting Stoned

True to its New York setting, there's a lot of stories to be told behind each door of each apartment in “High Maintenance.” Set in New York City, where adult-use cannabis is still illegal, it provides plenty of opportunities to showcase the strange effects of legalization on our culture.

In the Season 2 finale, a pair of cops do little more than shrug as Central Park visitors share a joint while awaiting a solar eclipse — weed is treated as if its already legal because we assume it soon will be.

As the show moves through New York's labyrinth of cramped, lived-in apartments and pulsating streets, viewers will recognize moments of classic “stoner humor” — a stoned teenage girl yelling “my face is like cement;” the Guy sharing a toke with a client while oohing and awing inside a car wash — but these moments are always portrayed authentically.

Through both the humor and the drama, viewers are given a vivid glimpse at where and how people get high to give the sense that setting makes little difference if you're with the right people in the right moment.

Weed is the Connecting Force That Brings People Together

Eesha's weed stash will of course get discovered by her uncle, who will pound on the door of his neighbors (the source of the weed), only to interrupt a swingers' sex party. “You people bring drugs into the building!” he screams into his neighbor's face. His neighbor will laugh and say, “This is pot! This isn't drugs.”

The disconnect between these two worlds couldn't be more clear, and yet its cannabis that brings their worlds colliding. In “High Maintenance,” the characters use cannabis in a variety of ways for myriad reasons, but weed usually finds a way to give people exactly what they need to get through and connect with their own humanity.

In the Season 1 finale, an agoraphobic man mourns the death of his mother and finds comfort in weed, but he learns he can't rely on cannabis to replace human connection. For religious characters such as the ex-Hasidic man from “Derech” or the Muslim Eesha, smoking weed is a form of self-discovery — a ritual that we can use when the deep-seeded traditions of our parents are no longer enough. For other characters, weed acts as an aphrodisiac, a social instigator, a new friend, a boost of courage.

In “High Maintenance,” the story of weed is very much a human story. This is true of weed in reality. We've been growing and interacting with this plant for thousands of years, and our lives as respective species' are now intertwined. “High Maintenance” paints a clear portrait of this relationship.

No, you don't have to smoke weed to love “High Maintenance,” but the modern toker is sure to appreciate a show that paints a vivid human mosaic where they are undoubtedly the center.