Netflix’s ‘Maniac’ recently debuted on the streaming service and it didn’t take long for it to receive some serious critical acclaim. This praise is not for no reason – the ten-episode series is a bold, experimental show that delves into mental illness, the distinction between fantasy and reality, science, technology, grief, the abundance of advertising and more. Somehow, and quite unlike similar shows (*cough* Westworld *cough* Legion), despite the plot unravelling as you watch and surrealist elements coming into play, you feel placed in the moment and understand the reasons for what is happening. You never feel out of control with the show, and this is perhaps the greatest praise you could give to a series of this nature.
The tale follows Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) and Owen Milgram (Jonah Hill) as they participate in a pharmaceutical trial that claims it will permanently cure them of mental-health issues. Annie is grieving the loss of her sister and Owen suffers from schizophrenia and psychosis. The trial uses a series of drugs and an AI computer that get the patients to explore their subconscious in ways that will ultimately cure them of their mental conditions.
This is a pretty cool role for Emma and Jonah, who get to assume a variety of different characters as the experiment brings out different parts of their subconscious. Stone gets to be an elf, a spy, and a nurse who is hell-bent on rescuing a lemur, and Jonah gets to look like Post Malone as a member of a gang but perhaps his best role EVER is the Austrian-Finnish-Swedish-Dutch-Italian-Icelandic Snorri who is hands down the MVP of the entire show with one of the most ridiculous accents I’ve ever heard on television.
Alongside Emma and Jonah, we get incredibly eccentric Justin Theroux, the wild Sally Field in her many characters and Sonoya Mizuno who, after ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and her incredible work on this show, will soon be a household name.
This dystopia x surrealist masterpiece x Japanese anime x sci-fi x real-life drama sees Emma and Jonah work in perfect harmony as a duo. Despite their crazy characters, the pair seems to draw on their real-life friendship to become the on-screen friends that you come to adore by the end of the show. It’s also worth mentioning that they never end up as anything more than friends, which is refreshing and mature.
The entire direction and creation of the show are beyond beautiful – the colour composition of every shot, the beautifully flowing but the poignant-when-it-needs-to-be writing made the show move at exactly the right pace with exactly the right level of “what the fuck, is Jonah Hill a hawk now?” moments. At very least, ‘Maniac’ is an incredible idea, and at most, it is one of the most perfectly executed pieces of art I have ever seen. It’s also worth mentioning that the whole concept of mental illness is handled with care and importance. It is never downplayed or degraded, while simultaneously not being glorified. That balance is a fine line that a lot of projects don’t seem to get quite right.
This show is definitely worth the hype. I’m glad Netflix as a production company is getting to the stage where they are able to case well-known directors, creators and actors to create the quality content that they are becoming known for. This whole show was clever and beautiful and I couldn’t be more thrilled that this is the direction we are seeing TV go in.
Overall rating (no surprise): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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