Television Review “Maniac”

In the fall of 2018, Netflix released the original mini-series “Maniac,” starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill and created by Cari Joji Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville. The show has ten episodes that are approximately 40 minutes long, and it received favorable ratings, with an 8 out of 10 star rating on IMDB and a score of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. With a unique setting, complex characters and creative visuals, “Maniac” presents a moving journey through the minds of two characters as they strive to overcome their problems and achieve meaningful, human connections.

“Maniac” begins with a montage showing amoebas and cells, cosmos and black holes. A voice-over by the character Dr. James Mantleray (Justin Theroux) describes the beginning of life with the Big Bang, how collisions of matter created the universe and how the need for connection still dominates human life. After this opening, we first meet Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone), a drug addict with a haunted past, who often steals coins from a newspaper dispenser to buy cigarettes. Soon after, we meet Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill), the schizophrenic black sheep of the wealthy Milgrim family, who is being deposed for a lawsuit filed against his brother.

Landsberg and Milgrim’s stories collide when they find themselves involved in an experimental drug trial at Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech. The drug under testing aims to eliminate therapy by giving patients hallucinations that prompt them to work out their problems in their minds. A computer, the GRTA, facilitates these hallucinations, with help from its creators, Dr. Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno) and Dr. Mantleray.

As the trial progresses, their hallucinations intertwine while the GRTA becomes increasingly unstable. The visions they experience illuminate parts of their backstories and provide insight without slowing down the narrative momentum. Even as the subjects’ lives become endangered through the trial, one can see Landsberg and Milgrim each struggling in their own ways to identify their problems and work through them. More than that, they find ways to help each other on their own journeys. Filled with many moments of wisdom and heart, this show captures one’s attention and holds it in suspense until the very end.

Admirable acting performances, especially by Stone and Hill, give the show another layer of emotional depth. The setting, which seems to be somewhere in the 80s or 90s, adds color to every scene. Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech appears at once futuristic and obsolescent with its visionary ideas and dated equipment. With the show’s narrative style, some viewers may feel the show leaves their questions unanswered, but that is beside the point. The show makes it clear from the beginning that it revolves around human connection; thus, it involves messy explorations of the mind, fantastic action sequences and random coincidences.

“Maniac” will take you for a wild ride, but it is well worth your time. The intrigue inspired by its unique premise alone can carry viewers from episode to episode; beyond that, the moving tales of the characters will deeply affect those who watch. Check out “Maniac” on Netflix for an engaging show with thoughtful commentary about human connection, redemption and life.

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