TV Review: Maniac

SYNOPSIS:  Set in a world somewhat like our world, in a time quite similar to our time, Maniac tells the stories of Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill), two strangers drawn to the late stages of a mysterious pharmaceutical trial, each for their own reasons. Annie’s disaffected and aimless, fixated on broken relationships with her mother and her sister; Owen, the fifth son of wealthy New York industrialists, has struggled his whole life with a disputed diagnosis of schizophrenia. Neither of their lives have turned out quite right, and the promise of a new, radical kind of pharmaceutical treatment—a sequence of pills its inventor, Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux), claims can repair anything about the mind, be it mental illness or heartbreak—draws them and ten other strangers to the facilities of Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech for a three-day drug trial that will, they’re assured, with no complications or side-effects whatsoever, solve all of their problems, permanently. Things do not go as planned.

Maniac, TV Review, Maniac TV Review, Drama, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Emma Stone, Sally Field

REVIEW: It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Maniac was going to be a good series. With the star power of the cast led by Jonah Hill and Emma Stone and the direction of Cary Fukunaga, there was little doubt that this event series was going to be memorable, but the only question was what the hell was it going to be about. The first trailer made it look like a hallucinatory thriller while the most recent one seemed more like a surreal comedy with dramatic elements. I am happy to report that it is all of those things and so much more. What is most surprising is that Maniac is a romantic and heartfelt series unlike anything I have seen. In fact, this may be the best thing that Netflix has put out to date. Once you see Maniac, you will understand why everyone is so damn excited that Fukunaga is helming the next James Bond film. This is the project that cements him as a top tier director for years to come.

Maniac has a distinct look, tone, and style to it but draws from a wide range of films and televison series. The visuals feel like a cross between INCEPTION and BLADE RUNNER. The parallel New York it is set in looks like how the future would have been imagined forty years ago with the set design echoing Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL. There are moments of surrealism that evoke Michel Gondry's ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and Ben Stiller's underrated THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY but it reminded me the most of HBO's The Leftovers. There were a pair of episodes on that series that found Justin Theroux's character in an alternate reality where things were close but slightly different. It is fitting that this Maniac, based on the Norweigan series of the same name, comes from creator Patrick Somerville who worked on The Leftovers. 

In Maniac's version of the world, robots roam the sidewalks cleaning up dog poop and if you run out of money, you can pay a person called an Ad Buddy to cover your expenses but at the cost that they follow you around reciting spam aloud. It is from one of these advertisements that Owen Milgram (Jonah Hill) learns of an experimental drug trial being run by Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux). Owen has dealt with years of psychiatric illnesses and a family that ostracizes him. Owen's father, played by Gabriel Byrne, runs a company that sells the aforementioned poopbots but Owen is trying to make it on his own. In his search for happiness, he becomes enamored by a model in billboards and ads and runs into someone who looks like her at the drug trial. She is Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone), a very unhappy woman who is trying to get a fix via the drugs offered by Dr. Mantleray. 

Over the series, we get to dive deeper into these broken characters and what made them need to seek out this drug trial. To divulge too much would deprive viewers of unraveling it for themselves as they watch the series. I can say that this is easily that Maniac represents the best performances in the careers of both Jonah Hill and Emma Stone. There are also phenomenal performances from Theroux and Sally Field along with the rest of the cast that includes EX MACHINA's Sonoya Mizuno, Ozark's Julia Garner, Girls' Jemima Kirke and many more. As the episodes progress, the cast are given much more bizarre material to work with and yet the emotional core is the two main characters and their deep need for love and fulfillment. If that sounds a bit hokey, it kind of is but it works. Fukunaga and Somerville manage to tell a story of hope in a world that is just teetering on dystopian.

Maniac, TV Review, Maniac TV Review, Drama, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Emma Stone, Sally Field

This series is definitely not going to appeal to all audiences, many of whom are likely going in expecting something different from the marketing push that never quite explained what the show was going to be about. The first episodes are slow going and have a lot of world-building to do for viewers to understand that this is not the same 2018 as the one we exist in, but that is the benefit of Netflix's model of premiering entire seasons at once. Maniac is designed to be binged and works much better if you consume it in one sitting. The episodes hover between forty minutes and an hour which is about the length of a traditional television episode and which also means you can complete this entire show in about seven hours. I found myself unable to stop and plowed through the entire ten episodes. I think most of you who reach the end quickly will find the conclusion more satisfying than others but I would not be shocked if people come away feeling underwhelmed.

Maniac is everything that True Detective was not and yet the two series are tethered by a shared filmmaker. Cary Fukunaga crosses multiple genres with Maniac but still keeps a distinct style to his camera work and framing that echoes the HBO noir series. Much like True Detective, we have a pair of lead actors giving transformative performances in a story that does not wrap everything up in a nice bow. The multiple dreamscapes that Owen and Annie find themselves in provide Fukunaga a playground to cross genres and really stretch himself as a filmmaker, something that manages to up the ante from all of his previous priojects. It is also an amazing time capsule to see how much SUPERBAD co-stars Hill and Stone have changed and grown as performers since they last shared the screen. Maniac is sure to confound some but it is clearly one of the best shows of the year and unlike anything else on television or the big screen.

Maniac is now streaming on Netflix.

Source: JoBlo.com



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