High Maintenance recap: Housing crisis

Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Danielle Brooks.photo: David Russell
Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Danielle Brooks.photo: David Russell /
High Maintenance
Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Danielle Brooks.photo: David Russell /

High Maintenance focuses on the dire state of affordable housing in New York City in an episode that meshes frustration with humor.

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New York City wasn’t always this expensive. Sure, there were always the suffocating hallways and the teeny tiny bathrooms with doors that don’t open all the way, but those quirks were concessions that thrifty New Yorkers made to live in this amazing city.

The concern now is that with rising prices, a lack of affordable housing will strip the city – and the surrounding boroughs – of the charm and diversity that make it so wonderful in the first place.

The housing plight isn’t anything new. New York City has been treated like a real-life game of Monopoly for decades now. Back in the 80’s, our very own president bought a few rent-controlled buildings near Central Park and then flooded them with rats in an attempt to kick the existing tenants out. (True story.)

High Maintenance addresses these growing problems with a one-two punch of vignettes linked by concerns related to the NYC housing dilemma.

First, we spend a few days with Regine (Danielle Brooks), an affable real estate agent living in Brooklyn. Brooks embodies Regine with knowing savvy as she navigates all sorts of relationships with ease and confidence.

When we first meet Regine, she’s getting into it with Damien, her slightly sleazy dealer. He doesn’t have vape pens, but that’s what she wants. She’s in the middle of schooling him on supply and demand when her phone buzzes. She’s late for an appointment with a client. We get to see her go through the motions at her job, and she’s clearly passionate about what she does. When she shows a small apartment to a young couple, she makes the space come alive as she focuses on the character and history of the building. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad, after all. They want it, but they need to get some documentation together first. Regine agrees to hold it for them for a bit.

That afternoon, she heads to the corner store and buys three loosies (single cigarettes) and a small coffee. In what feels like a routine visit, she brings the items to “Mr. C”, an elderly gentleman who owns a beautiful old brownstone. He tells her that someone else, “The Jew”, has been sniffing around the building. The two fall into a comfortable patter as they lament the plight of developers buying up everything in the neighborhood.

Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Danielle Brooks, Fady Kerko.photo: David Russell
Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Danielle Brooks, Fady Kerko.photo: David Russell /

That night, Regine finally gets her vape pen. Her co-worker referred her to the Guy, and he stops by her apartment in all his bearded glory. She buys a pen, but not before she slips him her card. He’s confused and puts her off with that stellar etiquette I was talking about last week, but she persists. The Guy doesn’t agree to go to the apartment, but it does appear as if Regine has put a thought into his mind.

The next morning, Regine goes to a yoga class run by one of the feminists from last week’s episode. She centers herself with a few deep, cleansing breaths, and then heads out for her daily routine with Mr. C.

Regine is feeling good as she grabs the loosies and coffee. She’s got a happy glow about her as she saunters down the street, smoking her vape pen, when Damien creeps up on her in his giant white SUV. Even though he’s giving her a hard time about the pen, nothing’s gonna get her down. Except one thing. She reaches Mr. C’s house and there’s a sign out front: Sale Pending. That’s cold, Mr. C.

The show abruptly ends Regine’s story here, and it’s unclear if we’re going to ever see her again. Given the hit-it-and-quit-it nature of High Maintenance, if we do see her again, it probably won’t be in this season, but her story certainly ends leaving us wanting more. Brooks is a talented and engaging performer who adds all sorts of subtext to her character’s situation during the twelve short minutes she’s on screen, and the show would be foolish to leave her story here.

Yet, the story of housing in NYC continues. In fact, the building that Regine so coveted is probably destined for some huge money making complex. Developers are building luxury high-rise apartment complexes in NYC, but in an attempt to offset the issue of decreasing affordable housing, a certain percentage of the units in any given building must be allotted for subsidized residents.

Enter John and Candace, two characters from the High Maintenance webseries.

Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Candace Thompson, John E. Peery, Ben Sinclair.photo: David Russell
Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Candace Thompson, John E. Peery, Ben Sinclair.photo: David Russell /

Last we saw Candace (Candace Thompson) and John (John Peery) in episode “Trixie”, they were offering up their small apartment on Airbnb so that they could make their rent. Of course that didn’t go well, and now we find them in a communal living situation. The Guy stops by to deliver some goodies, and they hang out for a bit, chatting about the logistics of getting Benjamin Button-ed.

The next day, Candace gets a call from the NYC Housing Department. Her application for affordable housing has been accepted. Now, what does that mean exactly?

Well, Candace and John visit one of those new high-rise buildings and scope out their potential new place. It’s clear that the living situation in these units is made to be somewhat unpleasant for subsidized residents – the units are small, and they’re not allowed to use any of the amenities – but all of this is laid out for them before they accept the apartment. Candace is so excited to be living in a place with a bathtub that she says yes. John is pretty whipped by her, so he has no choice but to accept as well. Oh, also, the place is $850 a month, which is a freaking steal in almost any city.

They move in to the building, and quickly realize that living there is to accept life as second-class citizens. They’re not allowed to use the bike room, sauna, rooftop, etc. Unfortunately, this is the way it is in a lot of these luxury apartment complexes. For the price, it almost seems like a fair trade off, but the way in which the full-paying residents treat them is brutally unfair and hostile. Candace and John quickly become pariahs in the elevator and are hounded by security for even the smallest of infractions.

Candace is a firecracker personality who has an off-putting attitude. She’s whip smart and resourceful, but she’s also entitled and selfish. So when she and John finally make a connection with another couple in the building, she brusquely takes advantage of that nascent relationship and asks for their key fob.

Even given the unfair balance of power in the building, this ask is way overstepping. The couple says no, and the air in the room gets hostile. Candace takes the opportunity to snoop around in the couple’s medicine cabinet and she stumbles upon their key code anyhow. (Also, a placenta in a jar. Ew.) Tipsy, she and John leave the apartment, probably never to return.

Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Ben Sinclair, Candace Thompson, John E. Peery.photo: David Russell
Episode 9 (season 2, episode 3), debut 2/2/18: Ben Sinclair, Candace Thompson, John E. Peery.photo: David Russell /

That night, they invite the Guy over to smoke and sauna. As they chill in the sauna, the security guard comes up and tries to kick them out. But Candace snaps. She terrifies the three men in the room as she goes on a tirade about income inequality. The security guy doesn’t want to deal, so he tells them to just wrap it up and leaves them alone.

At the end, Candace and John are enjoying their bathtub in a state of fart-filled marital bliss. They chat about their current living situation, and Candace says she’s, “just trying to game the system before it plays me.”

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Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • Loved how Candace was so up front about needing eye contact during a “cheers”. Me too, Candace. Me too.
  • The Guy has a bunch of oddball NYC encounters in the episode, and when he sees a guy trying to lasso a fire hydrant it’s just so NYC it hurts.
  • The Guy also delivers to a group of young Asian kids who live predominantly in the VR world. He complains about the frequency of ordering to the apartment. The kids don’t realize that their lack of social interaction is concerning, so their solution is to have the Guy knock on their doors and ask if they need anything before he leaves. Weird, right? But living through technology behind closed doors is so predominant for Japanese youth that there’s actually a word for it in Japan – Hikikomori. Weed delivery services like The Guy would most certainly come into contact with these types of kids, and I love how he inadvertently brought them all together through his frustration.

‘High Maintenance’ airs Fridays at 11/10c on HBO.