High Maintenance recap: Birthday buzz

Gina Piersanti.photo: David Russell
Gina Piersanti.photo: David Russell /

A teen explores her budding sexuality in an episode of High Maintenance that feels like the old webisodes.

The latest installment of High Maintenance, titled “HBD”, is a tiny snapshot in time that leaves us with a lot of questions. At its essence, the short episode – clocking in at a lean nineteen minutes – is the story of a young woman celebrating her birthday. It takes place over less than 48 hours, and it’s an intense look at what it’s like to live as a questioning teen.

When we first meet Emily (Gina Piersanti) it’s 2am, the artist’s witching hour. She’s hyper focused on sketching some rad drawings. We get a few moments to observe her deeply immersed in her creative process when the doorbell rings. Emily wanders down the hall, calling for a person named Renee. Apparently Renee isn’t in the building, so Emily goes to greet their guest.

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It’s Claudia (Cécile Delpière), an old friend. She’s crashing with them as she completes interviews in the city with Ru Paul and Chloe Sevigny. Emily is impressed, but Claudia is tired, so she heads to the guest bedroom and says goodnight.

The next morning, Emily and Claudia are enjoying some coffee when Renee (Miriam Shor) bursts in the door in a cloud of manic energy. She deposits blue roses and some cookies in her daughter’s arms and wishes her happy birthday. However, the celebration is short lived as Renee soon turns her buzzy attention to Claudia and they start making plans for the night.

Viewers of High Maintenance will remember Renee as the spitfire single gal at the orgy in episode “Museebat” back in Season 1 of the HBO series. Back then, she was splitting up with her husband at the time – who may or may not have been Emily’s father – and she recounted a story of how she and her hub engaged in sex play with another couple without protection. Renee clearly has a habit of being irresponsible, and she waves it off as being “free spirited”. However, her daughter has clearly been left wanting for an emotionally and physically present parental figure.

While Emily celebrates her birthday afternoon, the Guy (Ben Sinclair) is delivering to some of his faves. He makes the rounds to the flighty Chad (Chris Roberti), the weed dependent couple from webisode “Sufjan” (Hannah Bos and Micah Sherman), and cross-dressing Colin (Dan Stevens) and his wife Becky (Katja Blitchfeld). Colin and Becky are also alums from the “Museebat” episode of the show, but they’re only on screen for a hot second and they never cross paths with Renee.

Colin and Becky let the Guy know that they missed him when he was on his medical hiatus. Abullah was cool, but he wasn’t the same. Colin cracks out some British slang and says he’s “chuffed” to have the Guy back in their lives. They’re “stuffed to the chuffs”, which is a delightful phrase that I am adopting immediately.

Katja Blichfeld, Dan Stevens.photo: David Russell
Katja Blichfeld, Dan Stevens.photo: David Russell /

It’s of note that Blitchfeld is credited with writing this episode. At the end of 2017, Blitchfeld ended her marriage to fellow High Maintenance co-creator and star Ben Sinclair after she fully realized her sexuality and came out as gay. While the physical events of “HBD” may or may not mirror Blitchfeld’s actual experience, the internalized struggle that the character Emily experiences throughout the episode will likely be strikingly familiar to any questioning teens watching the series.

Once the story returns to Emily, she’s listening to some music as she waits for her friends to stop by to celebrate her birthday. Renee has forgotten to get her a gift, so instead she calls the Guy over to deliver some goodies. As the Guy enters the apartment, Renee immediately starts fawning over him and Emily rolls her eyes. The interaction is cut short, however, when a gaggle of teen girls start flooding into the apartment. The first friend plops a bottle of tequila down on the counter, and sassily announces that she’s already been drinking that day. She goes and settles herself next to the Guy and starts pawing through his wares. The Guy is clearly uncomfortable, but he rolls with it.

A bit later, after Renee and Claudia leave to go to a sex party, the girls are in full celebration mode, smoking and drinking with abandon. It’s curious that Emily doesn’t really seem to be drinking. She’s more of an introvert, studiously observing the world around her instead of participating in the crazy. The festivities turn into a teen sleepover on crack as Ella drunkenly commandeers the proceedings. She’s clearly a provocateur, and she takes center stage as she insists on bleaching her pubes, raps in a bra, and gives a tattoo to one of the other girls.

(Side note: That abstract tat is basically a Rorschach test. I saw an alien while my husband saw a plant… so Choose Your Own Adventure, I guess?)

Milla Press, Kayla Janowitz, Gina Piersanti, Chloe Levine.photo: David Russell
Milla Press, Kayla Janowitz, Gina Piersanti, Chloe Levine.photo: David Russell /

The girls bestow Emily with a few presents including a sports bra, condoms, and a giant dildo. The tone of the party coupled with the choice of gifts illustrates that Emily really hasn’t let her friends in yet in regards to her budding sexuality.

Instead, Emily chooses to explore her feelings in a different way. That night, after she puts Ella to sleep in the guest bedroom, Emily showers and tosses on her comfy new bra. She settles in to puff a joint and do some sketching when Claudia returns home.

Confused about the interloper in her bed, Claudia pops into Emily’s room. She sits and chats with her young friend for a while about her art, and Claudia shares one of the best pieces of wisdom on the show to date. She says, “You should only do things you give a big fuck about.”

This ignites something in Emily, and she grabs Claudia and kisses her passionately. Claudia fully engages in the kiss, pulling her closer for a moment before shaking loose and heading to bed.

The next morning, Emily heads to the kitchen and finds Renee and Claudia smoking a bowl and eating the remainder of the red velvet cake for breakfast. She settles herself next to Claudia and carefully brushes her arm. Claudia jumps up from the table and starts to head out. Renee is close behind. And then Emily is left all by her lonesome, trying to make sense of this new year of her life.

Related Story: High Maintenance S2E6 Recap: A Long Strange Trip

Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • Dan Stevens’ character Colin always has the coolest bowls on the show.
  • The Guy tells the following joke: “What did the left ass cheek say to the right cheek? If we stick together we can stop all this shit.”

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