The Maniac Attraction

Quinton Burnett | Staff Writer

Maniac (3)


Despite our best efforts, humans have yet to figure out much about our own brains. The human mind is its own complex maze, a unique labyrinth with unexplored corners, layers of unknown danger and inconceivable nuance.

Thus, attempting to tackle this in a 10-episode miniseries that only runs for about 6 hours total is daunting, to say the least.

Visualizing and personifying subjects such as memory, identity and personality is something very few directors can pull off. Navigating that difficult plain is the brainchild of Patrick Somerville and director Cary Joji Fukunaga: Netflix’s Maniac.

Maniac is a show in which two people (Jonah Hill and Emma Stone) attempt to rectify their issues through a pharmaceutical drug trial. However, the show is far more complex than that.

Borrowing themes from works such as Black Mirror, Westworld and, to a degree, Inception, Fukunaga (True Detective, season 1) creates a bizarre pseudo-futurist, pseudo-dystopian world that tackles its goal of confronting the most nuanced levels of human psyche, to varying degrees of success.

Maniac is easily one of my favorite shows of 2018. Loosely based on a Norwegian series of the same name (also available to stream on Netflix), the series follows Hill in the role of Owen Milgrim, the depressed, paranoid and possibly schizophrenic youngest son of a corrupt and wealthy family.

The premise of the show begins to roll when Owen, strapped for cash, volunteers for a pharmaceutical trial that promises unbridled joy to those who complete it. It is here that we meet Stone as Annie Landsbergh, a drug-addicted young woman seeking entry into the trial for her own personal reasons.

Over the course of the next 10 episodes, Fukunaga bends genre and plays with dramatic expectation to craft a seriously fun show. A show about humans and human psyche, it is only right that Maniac is carried best by its people, specifically performances by its stars, Hill and Stone. The two actors collaborated for the first time since 2007’s Superbad, showcasing chemistry provided by 12 years of friendship.

Hill seemingly takes a backseat to the forceful Stone, whose personality seeps into the character of Annie. Maniac is further buoyed by an engrossing performance by Justin Theroux as the eccentric scientist Dr. James Mantleray.

The only glaring weakness in Maniac is that of comparison. Maniac borrows elements from works that are much “smarter.” The show has elements of Inception and Westworld, but it is neither Inception nor Westworld. Viewers should remain careful to not overanalyze the show as it is not intentionally deceptive nor intentionally complex. Maniac is a project structured for Netflix, allowing for its rapid and repeated consumption – so it cannot develop the agonizing depth and twists found in stylistically similar shows.

With Maniac, Netflix has struck oil, gathering the proper directorial team, a star-studded cast and a fun-to-watch story. Here’s hoping that this “limited series” makes another run.


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