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HBO's 'High Maintenance' co-creator and the show's 'message of acceptance'

Katja Blichfeld, left, co-creator of “High Maintenance,” on the set of the HBO series.
Katja Blichfeld, left, co-creator of “High Maintenance,” on the set of the HBO series.
David M. Russell/HBO

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“High Maintenance” is unlike a lot of what’s on TV.

Maybe that’s because it started as web series. Maybe it’s because it’s not plot-driven. Maybe it’s about the creators, who have a unique relationship.

Now in its second season on HBO, each episode revolves around disparate people in and around New York City. The only constant is "The Guy," a kind-hearted cannabis dealer with a bushy beard who traverses the city making weed deliveries on his bike.

"The Guy" is played by Ben Sinclair. He and Katja Blichfeld co-created “High Maintenance” and direct most episodes together. And, until recently, they were also married.

Blichfeld came out of the closet and wrote very candidly about that process in Vogue magazine. She and Sinclair have continued to run the show together, and Blichfeld tells The Frame it's been good.

For obvious reasons, it's good that we're not together anymore. But I think this breakup has created space and expansiveness for our creativity and has expanded our world and people that are coming into our lives. It's really positive.

Blichfeld talks with The Frame about the "light journalism" they do to research subcultures that they aren't a part of, the non-judgmental tone of the show, and how coming to terms with her own identity may have been helped by making "High Maintenance."

Interview Highlights:

On why the episode inspired by Trump's inauguration included an unnamed tragedy:

We wrote that episode not long after the inauguration two Januarys ago. I think it was very much in reaction to that. We really wanted to tap into the feeling of dread that we, in that writers' room, all had surrounding the election, but recognizing that there were also so many other things that people were feeling similarly about. Not knowing what the current situation would be at the time of release, we just thought it would be better to keep the episode evergreen and just not name what it is .... And in a way it creates a little bit more suspense and dread. And I think every audience member is projecting their own notion of what horror that everyone's reacting to. 

On the three-way sex scene in that episode:

We really wanted to celebrate sexuality and the act of sex and to show people enjoying themselves. [We] worked with our cinematographer and our music supervisor, everyone in our production, to ensure that scene and sequence was portrayed in a way that was unmistakably joyful. Just to have the impact hit harder when those people get the news of what happened that day.

On the message of acceptance in "High Maintenance":

One goal that we had for the series was to have a message of acceptance — normalization of behaviors that maybe aren't accepted or portrayed in the mainstream. We started from our point of view on weed smoking. It makes sense that it, as the series went on, expanded into other territories beyond just substance use. 

Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, co-creators of “High Maintenance,” on the set of the HBO series.
Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, co-creators of “High Maintenance,” on the set of the HBO series.
David M. Russell/HBO

On publishing her coming out story in Vogue and working it into the show:

Writing and storytelling is a way to sort through personal issues. I'm not the first to do that — if that's indeed what I was doing. I can say this: there was definitely a small amount of relief felt when we were able to transpose elements of reality into our show. I think Ben and I had tried a few times before to capture our relationship dynamic in the show and had scrapped previous efforts because things just got too fraught. Then, once we had this resolution to our relationship — and once I had some personal resolution to my identity — it's not surprising to me [my experience] that became a much easier thing to extract and put in to the show.

On why she and Ben are able to continue working together despite their breakup:

Our relationship was really great in a lot of ways. We did have a lot of good times. A lot of people might think, Oh, it was terrible for them and now it's not. It wasn't. This show was born out of a lot of love and a shared affinity for a lot of things. He and I had a lot in common, not the least our sense of humor and sense of wonder with the world around us and our love of New York. 

“High Maintenance” airs Fridays on HBO.

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