By Dave B.
Have you ever been deeply, instantly connected to someone? I’m not talking about infatuation at first sight or the unquantifiable, but universally understandable feeling called love. I’m referring to the feeling you get when someone that you don’t even really know is someone that you’ve always known. That you and this person (or people) have lived a thousand lives together and are part of each other in ways that defy any current scientific explanation. Well, that’s the feeling that Netflix’s Maniac tries to capture.
In the miniseries, clinically depressed Annie (Emma Stone) and schizophrenic Owen (Jonah Hill) find themselves as subjects of an experimental therapy that purports to help participants overcome trauma within three days, using a combination of drugs and immersion in artificial mental environments. Annie and Owen inadvertently break the experiment’s protocols by continuously ending up in each other’s therapeutic mental landscapes. Throw in myriad family and mental issues, the troubled founder of the experiment, and a heartbroken artificial intelligence that is in charge of the health and well being of the study’s participants, and you wind up with one of Netflix’s most engaging, quirky, funny, surreal, and heartfelt original series.
There’s nothing that I don’t love about Maniac. From the plot to the dialogue to the cinematography, everything works. Above all else, the acting is phenomenal. Stone is brilliant at conveying Annie’s tough exterior and inner fragility. If she isn’t nominated for an Emmy, there’s no justice in the world. Hill as Owen displays more nuance, depth, and pain than I thought he was capable of. It’s clearly the best performance of his career. Beyond those two, every role in the miniseries (major or minor) is played to perfection. There are no wrong notes; every actor and actress gives 110% in every scene that they are in.
Writer and director Cary Fukunaga (who also directed the first season of True Detective) manages to weave fanciful, engaging world’s within a far bleaker, more lonely one where people cope with their loneliness by renting friend proxies and are able to live within isolation pods in their backyards. The creativity on display in this show is truly impressive and never crosses the line into self-admiration of its own unconventionality (yes, I’m talking about you, Legion). With each of the 10 episodes clocking at about 40 minutes (instead of an hour or more which is getting far too common nowadays), the series zips along and Fukunaga avoids having too much downtime in the show and prevents things from becoming stale.
All in all, Maniac is my favorite Netflix series since Altered Carbon. This show connected with me in a way that few ever have and it managed to do so by nailing the basics: strong character development, great storytelling, and out-of-this-world acting. Not only do I recommend it, I plan on watching it again to catch all of the subtle nuances that I may have missed. Maniac is definitely worth your time.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.