Years ago, producers of original web series would compare their projects to short films. The internet made short films irrelevant, they’d say, because you could build an audience yourself, rather than wait for film festivals and distributors to validate your story. Besides, television production was expanding on cable, while movie theaters were clogged with blockbusters.
Fast forward to today and the web series has not upended the short film…yet. Except that with the premiere of Vimeo’s first original series “High Maintenance,” not since BMW’s 2001 hit “The Hire” has a web original so thoroughly challenged the division between film and television, providing a roadmap for independent producers to get audiences and distributors interested in original storytelling. “High Maintenance” may well be the future of indie TV.
Like “The Hire,” “High Maintenance” is an anthology show, a series of short films where, instead of Clive Owen’s shadowy “Driver,” we’re following Ben Sinclair’s affable “Guy,” a weed dealer delivering product to New York’s stressed out middle and upper class. Each episode of the show focuses on a different character or set of characters — we enter each story in medias res, and it unfolds with an ease belying its sophistication. Some episodes are darker and quieter, others brisk and colorful. All co-creators and married couple Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld promise is the performances will ring true and each story will be different.
The first four “cycles” — three-episode seasons — are available for free on the series’ Tumblr. The fifth cycle premiered last week on a special Vimeo site and the sixth will air in January 2015. For $8 viewers can buy all six episodes or sample one of the first three for $2. The new episodes are a little longer and feature higher production value — most noticeably, more locations, actors and props — but retain the originals’ elegance and emotional complexity.
At a time when long features about web series are unheard of, critics have been delving behind the scenes for “High Maintenance,” hailing Sinclair and Blichfeld as progenitors of a new genre, the first great creatives to benefit from Vimeo’s On Demand plans, and cunning anthropologists of “small town” New York (Brooklyn).
How did one show accomplish so much?