BY KAREN SUROS
This article contains spoilers
This article contains spoilers
“Maniac” is out of the ordinary in more ways than one. It is a limited series on Netflix, meaning that the number of episodes were predetermined, and there will be no further “seasons”– just the 10 episodes available now. The Netflix original is categorized as a black comedy and a psychological fiction story, starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. The series delves into the minds of these two main characters, whose stories soon become intertwined.
Owen Milgrim, played by Jonah Hill, suffers from schizophrenia and is not taking his medication when his character is introduced. Owen struggles with living in a well-off family that he has little in common with, other than genes.
Through this role, Hill shows off a new side of his acting abilities. Previously, audiences may have seen him in a number of light-hearted comedies. Here, he is humorous, but it’s a darker, drier sort of funny. There’s a new depth to Hill’s acting as his character handles the thin line between what it is real and what his mind imagines, and life in a family he has little in common with.
Annie Landsberg, played by Emma Stone, has developed an addiction to pills after experiencing a tragedy involving her sister. Stone gives Annie a great deal of personality and depth, ranging from outgoing and hilariously honest to depressed and devastated.
The two characters cross paths when they join a mysterious clinical trial testing a drug that aims to replace therapy by delving deep into the subconscious of participants. As Owen and Annie take the pills, they experience the stories of others and, through these stories, they find themselves. For example, in one of the medication-induced “dream worlds,” Annie sees herself as Linda from Long Island, who is her polar opposite and yet the two have so much in common.
The show appears to take place during a hybrid time, a strange combination of the 80’s and the future. This makes for an idiosyncratic aesthetic, complete with quirky details like boxy TVs and the new and improved Statue of Extra Liberty. New York City shines through, aided by subway stations and public libraries turned bus stations.
The show also gave the city a new light with the creation of “Ad Buddies,” an alternative to tradition print and digital advertisements, where it is actual people that bombard consumers with information on various products and programs. Of course, it’d be a travesty to forget about the adorable robots that keep the sidewalks clean.
The limited series may leave viewers feeling as if they have limited functions; the intricate “dream worlds” can be difficult to distinguish from the real world, and the general concepts shown require some analytical skills. “Maniac” is not for everyone– not because it takes an enlightened mind to grasp these concepts, but because not everyone will enjoy trying to follow along with what is going on.
Additionally, not even watching the series in its entirety will provide all the answers. Some things remain a mystery on purpose, allowing viewers to think for themselves. This plays into the stimulating factor of the show, which forces viewers to think past what they are seeing to truly comprehend the meaning behind the madness.
In the midst of the mayhem, an important topic is that of mental illness. The two main characters have their own struggles. Owen deals with schizophrenia while Annie suffers from depression. “Maniac” makes not-so-subtle commentary on how mental illness is treated, as the plot does involve the testing of a pill to treat such illnesses. This is a tricky subject to cover, and creators cannot please everyone, but they do a decent job of managing to say something about the nonexistent cure for mental illness. It added to the show’s allure instead of taking away from it.
“Maniac” is unique, leaving viewers thoroughly entertained through witty dialogue, carefully considered cinematography and stellar acting. A puzzling plot is simultaneously provocative, leaving viewers to think their way to the final takeaway that matters of the mind are no easy feat.
- Entertaining, unique plot
- Open to interpretation by viewers
- May be confusing
- Leaves questions unanswered
Photo courtesy of Netflix