The “Grandpa” episode on the HBO series High Maintenance has the best portrayal we have ever seen of life from a dog’s perspective. It does not resort to old cliches like giving the dog an inner monologue with a human voice, or having the dog understand perfectly what the humans are saying. The dog is a dog, and what we know about his feelings are all from his actions and the expressions on his face.
Gatsby is a big rambunctious dog who moves with his owner from Indiana to Queens New York. Suddenly, Gatsby’s life is forever changed and he has trouble adjusting. He can no longer run free, but has to stay on a leash in little fenced-in dog parks. He cannot even poop wherever he wants and people yell and him when he tries. He has to spend all day in a cramped apartment while his owner Chase (Ryan Woods) goes to work.
Then things get better for Gatsby. Chase hires Beth the dog walker, and Gatsby falls in love. Beth takes Gatsby on long walks with other dogs. She brings him to parks, and talks to him constantly. At the end of each day, Gatsby stares hopefully out the apartment window just waiting for Beth to return.
There is a hilarious dream sequence where Gatsby imagines himself cavorting with Beth in a beautiful field while she dances around in a long flowing dress. Dogs do dream. Who knows? Maybe this is what they dream about.
Tragedy strikes when Chase gets into an argument with Beth and fires her. Gatsby is back to being cooped up in an apartment all day and only gets a few minutes walking time each day when Chase comes home after work. One day Gatsby slips his collar and runs away; we assume to search for Beth.
The episode has a bittersweet ending. Gatsby never returns home, but is adopted by a group of homeless people who love and care for him. He has no tags so they name him “Grandpa”. One day they happen to run into Beth. She pets “Grandpa”. Of course he immediately recognizes her and wants to go with her, but she has no idea this is the same dog she has know before. Beth leaves without him.
High Maintenance is a remarkably well done show that tells little interconnected stories of people throughout New York City. Theoretically the star of the show is Ben Sinclair (“The Guy”) who delivers marijuana on bicycle. However, often he is only in the story for a few minutes as a device to introduce the audience to the main characters in the episode.
Katja Blichfeld and her husband Ben Sinclair created High Maintenance, which started as an internet show. The acting is always superb. Yael Stone is Beth the dog walker. She is perfect at portraying the odd quirkiness and love for animals that you see in all those people who walk packs of mismatched dogs throughout the city.
Ryan Woods as Chase is also terrific at showing the stresses on a human moving to a new city. One of the most touching scenes of the episode has Chase sitting in his apartment crying, and we do not know why. The dog, comes over to try to comfort Chase. This scene without words perfectly portrays how lonely life can be in a city with millions of people.
High Maintenance also shows viewers parts of New York that are often not shown in movies or on T.V. This episode takes place entirely in Queens. Perhaps the best description ever of Queens was in the book Where Am I Now by Mara Wilson. She writes:
“Queens isn’t hip like Brooklyn, or wealthy and glamorous like Manhattan. It doesn’t have the hip-hop history of the Bronx, and its not a punch line like Staten Island. It doesn’t try to be cool. It doesn’t try to be anything. ‘Queens,’ I tell my friends, ‘is where your grandmother lives.’ It’s the middle sister borough. That’s why I like it.”
If you haven’t yet seen High Maintenance give it a look. Each episode will introduce you to new characters. You will like some, hate others and find quite a few obnoxious and irritating. However, you will find them all fascinating to watch.