Maniac is a new Netflix original series. Unlike the rest of their original series, however, this one is only around for a limited time, so watch it when you still can.
Based on a Norwegian show of the same name, Maniac follows Emma Stone’s and Jonah Hill’s characters through a pharmaceutical trial in which the ultimate goal is to end mental illness and the need for therapy. Annie and Ollie are both searching for something more in life. Annie lives alone and is addicted to pills that are from the trial (which is why she ends up entering it in the first place) to relive the tragic death of her sister, which she blames herself for. Ollie is a paranoid schizophrenic and wants to escape from his wealthy family, who are protecting his brother who sexually assaulted a colleague. The purpose of the trial is to submit them into different realities to ultimately help them past an obstacle or memory that is blocking them from recovering.
The show is certainly binge-worthy: I watched it in two days. There are ten episodes, each between 30 and 45 minutes long. I decided to watch it because I saw its trailer, which was very well-done and impressive. Stone and Hill provide a captivating performance. Stone, who has been known for being able to play diverse roles, does not disappoint. Hill, who helped create the show, also presents superb acting. Normally playing the overweight comic relief, Hill plays a jittery, mentally ill man and does it very well.
The setting and soundtrack are also notable. While New York City serves as the show’s backdrop, it is stuck in some weird ‘90s yet futuristic limbo. Characters watch TV on old-fashioned sets and have rotary phones, but little sanitation robots clean up after dogs, and computers have feelings. If you are short on money, you can enlist an “AdBuddy” to help you pay as long as you listen to their advertisement for an hour or two. If you would like some company, you can hire a “Friend Proxy.” The show is very interesting in this way: it takes elements from the past and from the future to prepare us for the pastel, Japanese-inspired and somewhat mod style of the lab.
The story itself leaves something to be desired. Some realities seem random, others seem deeply connected to characters. The premise of Ollie and Annie finding each other throughout these realities despite the fact that they are not supposed to be able to do that is sentimental and sweet, especially since the show does not force them into a relationship and keeps their interactions platonic. I think that if the writers spent more time developing this relationship as well as developing the personalities of the lab officials (Dr. Fujita is interesting, but is often no more than her looks, and her counterpart James is just weird and pretty funny) the show could be more intriguing.
Although I felt that Maniac lacked some elements, I would recommend watching the show solely for the visuals and the acting of Stone and Hill. It is one of few Netflix originals that has very successfully included such a big-name actress as Stone and not focused excessively on her. While the acting is certainly a highlight, the show itself is also interesting in its plot, setting, and message.