Two strangers’ paths cross when they are both attracted to a mysterious pharmaceutical drug trial. Owen (Jonah Hill) is trying to cure his schizophrenic hallucinations while Annie (Emma Stone) sneaks her way into the trial in order to supplement a drug problem.
From Cary Joji Fukunaga, creator of True Detective, this Netflix Original is as bold a TV show as you’re likely to see this year. Tackling psychology and mental illness head-on, it is an unflinchingly surreal, distinctly weird piece of work.
With striking visuals typical of Fukunaga’s work, he flitters from clean grayscale to vivid neon glows as often as he flitters from reality to dream sequences. With around half the screen time spent in the real world trial centre, the other half is spent in a whole host of fantastical locations as we are transported to the dreams of Owen and Annie.
The dream-world is handled with such detail and care, mastering that normalisation of strangeness which only dreams have. They’re jam-packed with familiar locations, objects and characters, used in unfamiliar ways. As in The Sopranos, dreams are utilised to delve into the psychology of characters, revealing truths to brilliant effect.
There is a slight mid-season lag as we spend more and more time dreaming. It often feels a little indulgent and lacking in purpose or direction. But the magnificent final two episodes pay-off in a way that makes up for any impatience generated in that period.
Its biggest problem is probably the company Maniac either deliberately, or unavoidably shares. With the concept of a Black Mirror episode and visuals akin to Ex-Machina, or clear similarities to Blade Runner and Inception, there are constant comparisons to other great works of filmmaking. None more so than 2001: A Space Odyssey (it’s hard to see a talking computer and not think of HAL).
Counteracting that is perhaps its greatest strengths; Jonah Hill and Emma Stone. Hill is terrific, filled with pain and dread, he gets better and better throughout the season. His remarkable work very nearly gets forgotten however, thanks to the unbelievable talents of Emma Stone. Still not even 30 years old, she has established herself as one of the very best actors working today. Her versatility and range is a joy to behold as the dreamworld gives her (and Hill) the opportunity to show off with different characters, accents and worlds to fill.
Not to forget the impressive supporting cast. Justin Theroux is the right kind of ridiculous as the scientist behind the drug, while Sally Field is a force to be reckoned with as his mother. Most notably though is Sonoya Mizuno; hidden under a stylish bob and funky glasses she inhabits Dr. Azumi Fujita completely.
While the brilliance of Maniac is often undercut by the fact it is so reminiscent of other great works of art, its daring subject matter, unique sensibility and stunning production come through triumphantly. In isolation this is a sensational piece of writing, brought to life with stunning visuals, an outstanding ensemble and a sumptuous score. One of 2018’s very finest pieces of television.
Image Credit Movie DB