2018-09-27 14:45
Emma Stone and Jonah Hill in Maniac


Two strangers are drawn to a mysterious pharmaceutical 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.


I’m familiar with some of Cary Joji Fukunaga’s other works, including executive producing the first season of True Detective and the American period drama, The Alienist. So I was curious to see what he would bring to Netflix with Maniac, especially after it was recently announced that he’d be directing the yet untitled 25th Bond film as well.

What I found was not at all what I expected - although I’m not entirely sure what that was to begin with.

Maniac, starring Emma Stone (Annie Landsberg) and Jonah Hill (Owen Milgrim), is a beautifully crafted 10-episode limited series that could easily have been an Oscar nominated film. With the evolution of television and the migration from the big screen to the small screen comes exciting works of art that, to be honest, shouldn’t be confined to an archaic classification system.

Set in a type of futuristic 80s New York City the show takes modern technology and puts it in a retro setting. This juxtaposition between old and new in a type of Kubrick setting brings with it a melancholic feeling that’s only emphasised more by the lugubrious characters that sort of hang around like ghosts – neither here nor there.

In the first few episodes Fukunaga and creator Patrick Somerville take their time to set up the back stories of the two main characters, Annie and Owen. What might seem tedious at first later pays off when the viewer becomes completely enthralled in the dream-like world in which the lines between fantasy and reality become completely blurred.

As Owen and Annie enter the pharmaceutical trial and take the experimental drugs they transcend the confines of their own monotony. The viewer is introduced to thrilling new characters, exciting new settings, and inspiring adventures. The drastic change in milieu and plotline at times carry the risk of completely alienating an invested viewer, but Fukunaga skilfully sidesteps this – even, rather surprisingly, when Stone’s elf character is introduced.

Stone and Hill might be the stars of the show, but three other actors steal their shine. Sonoya Mizuno (Dr. Azumi Fujita), Justin Theroux (Dr. James K. Mantleray), and Sally Field (Dr. Greta Mantleray) are brilliant to watch on screen. There’s a hint of Wes Anderson quirkiness in their characters that constantly teeter on the edge of the absolute absurd. A nearly unrecognisable Theroux completely disappears in Maniac's imaginary world under the wings of his female co-stars Mizuno and Field.

The show is like a dream within a dream of which you can only remember certain parts and when you do you can’t figure out completely how it all fits together. A type of layered dream puzzle with some pieces missing but still enough to make out the big picture. It's also a neon bright reminder of the extremities the human race will go to in order to escape our deepest, darkest demons whilst hiding any stumbling blocks deep in our subconscious.

Maniac is well-made and undoubtedly one of the best shows to land on Netflix. 



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