High Maintenance’s stunning season 2 premiere confronts a massive crisis with something like hope

The HBO comedy is back, and as full of pathos and empathy as ever.

Every week, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for January 14 through 20 is “Globo,” the season 2 premiere of HBO’s High Maintenance.

“Something bad’s happened.”

The “something” is never explained in “Globo,” even though the entire episode hinges on it. The event that sends High Maintenance’s New York City into mass mourning is kept purposefully vague, with sporadic hints that make it easy to morph the incident into whatever your mind fears: It could be anything from a mass shooting (“there are just some evil people out there, right?”) to the election of Donald Trump (“at least it’ll be really good for art”).

As far as “Globo” is concerned, though, exactly what happened doesn’t matter nearly so much as how everyone reacts to it. Luckily, High Maintenance is exactly the kind of show that’s equipped to portray a story in this meandering, personal vein. Every episode bobs and weaves between characters, like The Guy (co-creator Ben Sinclair) biking his way throughout the city to make his home weed deliveries.

High Maintenance is also one of the only NYC-based shows that can truly back up the clichéd claim that the city is “like another character.” This series has always understood and celebrated New York’s singular weirdness, and the often surprising and beautiful communities that spring up therein.

With “Globo,” High Maintenance reminds us exactly how good it can be by leaning into that quality, with blunt realism and unexpected warmth. On a day like the one “Globo” portrays, in which everyone is at once scattered and united in their shock and grief, the show’s dexterity in telling whatever stories it stumbles across gives it the ability to do right by every one of them.

“Globo” tells a city’s worth of stories with honesty and grace

 HBO
Bummer way to end a threesome.

When The Guy and his girlfriend (or something close to it, anyway) wake up the morning of Whatever Happened, they only get a couple minutes of grinning banter about how much the other person sucks to share a bed with before Beth (Yael Stone) checks her phone and gets the alert that changes everything.

From there, the day slowly but surely devolves as people absorb the news and try to figure out what the hell they’re supposed to be doing — a feeling that we’ve all, unfortunately, come to know all too well. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, do they go about their days as usual? Do they pause to acknowledge the enormity of what’s happened and have themselves a “fuck it, life’s too short” kind of day?

Or do they do what many of The Guy’s customers do, and attempt to stifle their anxiety with a vice?

As The Guy makes his stops, we see him bring a small bag of joy to a wide swath of customers while acting — as he always does — like a makeshift therapist in the face of their myriad worries.

The structure of “Globo” is seemingly freeform, sometimes letting The Guy bike off to his next stop to follow someone else he’s encountered through part of their day. But as written and directed by Sinclair and his co-creator Katja Blichfeld, this episode is meticulously put together, the individual stories stacking on top of each other to create a layered portrait of a day gone horribly wrong.

We briefly hang out with a frantic customer’s low-key roommate, who spends his day debating whether it’s okay to make some brag posts about his weight loss on a day when everything seems insignificant. We crash a breathless threesome in a hotel room, steamy with the fulfilled promise of adventurous sex, blissfully oblivious to the outside world until they finally manage to find phone chargers to connect them to it.

Finally, we stop by the bar where Beth works, but leave her behind to get on a late subway ride with her coworker, holding a stray balloon from an abandoned party slack in his tired hands. Once he picks up his son, they get back on the subway, where they manage the seemingly impossible feat of inspiring genuine smiles from the exhausted New Yorkers around them.

Throughout these stories — even the small ones that unfold as the episode eavesdrops on passersby — High Maintenance stays true to the intimate and often unflattering moments of people’s lives that neither they nor television like to acknowledge. (Not for nothing, those hotel threesome scenes are startlingly realistic, daring to show naked female and male bodies — which, even for HBO, remains rare.)

By visiting as many people as possible while staying grounded in the events of the real, messy world, “Globo” allows room to explore the kind of chaotic and raw instincts that are sometimes hard to watch, they’re so nakedly vulnerable. In the disparate reactions that follow shared trauma, the episode examines self-indulgence, denial, and, finally, joy. As the stories come together, “Globo” becomes a gorgeously rendered portrait, a model of High Maintenance at its best.

“Globo” and the first season of High Maintenance are currently available to stream on HBOGo.