With the release of Maniac, Netflix once again proves itself as an artistic powerhouse. This mini-series is a whirlwind of creativity containing often confusing, madcap ideas. But, at its core, Maniac is driven by characters and their relationships with one another. It is up there with some of the best TV in recent times.
It centres around two people who are both battling their inner demons: Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone), who is struggling with the trauma at the heart of her familial relationships, and Owen Milgram (Jonah Hill), a potential schizophrenic who is a pariah figure amongst his own family. They both become enticed by a pharmaceutical trial which promises to repair any problem in the human mind. However, all is not as it seems.
Throughout most of its runtime, Maniac is quite baffling. In its 1980’s inspired vision of the near-future, the sometimes surreal and hypnotic opening episodes can lead you to question whether the reality that is being portrayed is in fact real at all. Almost immediately, you are hooked. The intrigue around the drug trial, and what is lying underneath the surface of these characters, leaves you desperately wanting to know more.
Fortunately, it delivers on this promise. The character development is exceptional and often jaw-dropping. With often brutal insights into what lurks within them, you may occasionally wish that the information was never revealed. But this plays into the show’s major theme: facing up to one’s inner demons.
Although perhaps somewhat heavy-going, this is not all doom and gloom. There are a few episodes in which we see the fantasies being played out inside the character’s heads during the drug trial that add some light-heartedness to the overall picture. Crucially, however, these also discern more facets of the individuals. We end up with incredibly three-dimensional characters.
None of this would work though without brilliant performances and great chemistry between the actors. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone, in particular, are at career-highs. In spite of this, we must not overlook the supporting cast who lay down the foundations. Justin Theroux and Sonoya Mizuno, who play the scientists behind the trial, share a fantastic chemistry and flesh out their roles well considering their significantly less screen time. Their character arcs are the hidden gem of Maniac.
Whilst Maniac may not go in the direction that you expect it to, or answer all questions that it initially poses, it concludes in the most real and profound way that it could. Starting off as something complicated and large-in-scope and ending as something quite small, but nonetheless true-to-heart, was a brave choice to make and the right one. The way it deals with its themes is poetic and will linger with me for time to come. Such a lingering desire to rewatch already exists.
Article written by Christopher Rej