Update: The episode featuring our staff is now available to watch online.
There’s a great TV show out there that somehow, in the flood of great TV shows we’re all drowning in these days, has not gotten the attention it deserves. Or that’s the way it seems to me, anyway. I try to talk about it with friends and get blank stares. And so I’ve ended up doing this thing I’ve never done with any other program: I’ve sat friends and family down and played episodes for them, yammering on at length about what I love about the program.
On the surface it’s about a guy who delivers weed on a bike around New York. But most of the episodes are not about him. They’re these perfect little dramas – mini-short stories – about his customers. Each episode centers on a different set of customers.
I live in New York and sometimes I think it’s the most accurate picture of the city anyone’s making right now, in any medium. It transports us into the personal lives of gay couples and straight ones, shut-ins and partiers, guys who just arrived from Puerto Rico working construction and Hasidic Jews. It’s a portrait of a diverse city that feels grounded and very real, done so unpretentiously (and acted with such naturalism) that sometimes it feels more like a documentary than the scripted drama/comedy that it is.
I think maybe the unpretentiousness of the show might be why it gets overlooked. The characters and plotlines are super-fun to watch – and very different from what you see elsewhere – but the show doesn’t underline its big moments with trumpets. It underplays. Which I love.
I also love how often it has scenes where people are just … alone. One quarter of all households in our country are people who live alone. Lots of things happen to us all when we’re alone. I like that they find drama and plot and feeling in that.
When I sit people down in front of the TV to hook them on the show, I start with Stevie, the very first episode they put out, just five minutes long, made back when High Maintenance was a Vimeo series. (The episodes were made on the cheap as little video shorts before HBO picked the show up.) It’s very pure, Stevie. And funny. A study of one very nervous assistant to some unnamed important person.
Then I play Museebat, which plunges you into two worlds: a Pakistani pre-med student, who’s living with her aunt and uncle in New York and wanting to buy some weed. The scenes with her family are so totally believable, and not in English. I love how it takes you so comfortably into their lives, in an utterly uncorny way. How did the producers find out so much about this part of New York? To write so well about it? The B-plot in this episode is their next door neighbors, a couple who could not be more different. Swingers. The B-plot is played for humor. The A-plot for feeling.
Finally I end with Grandpa, a half hour of TV told from the POV of a dog. I mean, the dog is the main character and – I’m not kidding around here – the dog is a kickass actor. Like amazing. Like, the Meryl Streep of dogs. I really don’t understand how they made this episode. I don’t understand how they directed this dog. You won’t either. Warning: you’ll feel big feels with this one.
So. I’m a big fan. I respect their mission, to try to capture what life’s like right now, with characters and plot and all the tools of drama. It’s not very far from our show’s mission.
And so when the creators of the show asked if they could set a storyline in their new season in our office, I was excited. I think most of us here were. Maybe I’ll say more about the filming and everything in another post. For now I’ll say: they created a fictional This American Life staffer and put her into a story meeting with our real staff. So you’ll see people you’ve heard on the show – Zoe, Elna, Chana, Bim, Lilly, Sean, Nancy, David, Emanuele, Susan, Robyn, Miki, Diane, Lina – in our actual office.