Maniac is a Netflix original mini-series directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone. The series focuses on two distinct characters: Owen (Jonah Hill), a young man experiencing bouts of paranoid delusions, and Annie (Emma Stone), a young woman struggling to cope with her depression.
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The Mini-series Review
Both characters find themselves at Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech, an advanced drug company who is testing a new medication that promises to “solve” the many afflictions of mental discomfort. Guiding by their own reasoning and objectives, Owen and Annie quickly find out that they might be connected on a deeper level.
Maniac is a series that is hard to categorize, as it flips between genres and settings quite frequently. Owen and Annie’s drug trial experience takes place in a near-futuristic version of our own Earth, where analog and digital technologies have combined. It’s a weird future, with small sanitation robots, hibernation pods, and walking human advertisements known as “Ad-Buddys”.
Once Owen and Annie begin the drug trial, the experimental drug causes incredibly vivid hallucinations known as “reflections”. Here, Annie and Owen experience alternative versions of their lives, set against some interesting locations and characters. The show flips between quirky drama, intentionally silly fantasy, horror, and everything in between. That’s one of Maniac’s strongest aspects; it remains surprisingly and original throughout the 10-episode run.
Maniac is not only a weird show, but it can also be confusing at times. This is due to the show’s winding narrative, existentialist questions, and absolutely wacky nature. You’re never quite sure what’s real or not, as Maniac likes to play with our perception of reality consistently. As Owen struggles to identify delusion from reality, we the audience deal with the same issue.
Maniac expertly weaves our expectations and assumptions into an interesting story and then subverts those expectations whenever possible. Whether it’s with odd characters like scientists Azumi (Sonoya Mizuno) and James Mantleray (Justin Theroux) or the ever-growing intensity of the trials, Maniac finds a way to surprise its audience over and over.
There’s a psychedelic element to the visuals and editing that lends itself well to the unconventional storytelling. The imagery is often as colorful as the characters, with rainbows of flashing lights and an exceptionally busy presentation. Maniac is more than a one-trick pony though, as it is ripe with suspenseful atmosphere, chilling mystery, and deep philosophy.
These themes extend well into the visual makeup of the show, making Maniac one of the more visually interesting shows on Netflix.
Maniac gives viewers an interesting story with gripping characters and locations and glues them together with a narrative about self-growth and accepting your faults. It’s well shot, well acted, and surprisingly well written.
Watching Owen and Annie battle their inner demons and come to terms with their mental health was satisfying and exceptionally well done. In many ways, Maniac reminds of Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (2004). It expertly blends weird technology with mental health and tells a story of acceptance.
Maniac is an extremely weird (and at times inexplicable viewing experience), but it’s definitely one worth watching. As long as you’re okay with bright flashing lights and some exceptionally awkward and weird content, you should definitely give Maniac a try.
- Excellent performances from both Jonah Hill and Emma Stone
- Interesting characters and locations keep new episodes exciting
- Visuals are colorful and imaginative
- Unconventional storytelling might be too confusing for some
- Certain plot points are ridiculous and too over-the-top
- The most interesting episodes are shorter than the others