Netflix’s ‘Maniac’ Is a Beautiful and Confusing Mess That I Can’t Quit

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THIS POST CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS FOR MANIAC, NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX.

“Welcome back, subjects. Welcome back.”

This what test subjects at the fictional Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech facilities hear every time they complete a phase of a drug trial. And what you’ll think every time you see Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. This is the reality our heroes, Annie Landsberg (Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Hill), come back to, no matter how trippy, ridiculous, or dramatic their experiences turn out to be under the semi-watchful eye of scientists in futuristic lab coats.

The new series, based on the Norwegian TV show of the same name, is directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. If you still don’t know his name by now (True Detective season one, Beasts of No Nation, Sin Nombre), then you’ll definitely talk about him when the 25th James Bond movie comes out in 2020 (he was just named as director).

Maniac is a feast for the eyes, but you will often find yourself questioning if the show is giving you hallucinations (can a show really do that?) or if you accidentally ingested an edible…or two. (Fun!) You’ll have plenty of questions—some of which might remain unanswered by the show’s end. But that’s the beauty of Maniac, a show that draws you in with just the right amount of dosage: 10 stunning episodes, all directed by Fukunaga.

maniac netflix

Time and time again, Annie and Owen find themselves in each other’s experiments or “reflections”—dream sequences that take them everywhere from a 1940s gangster movie setting to 1980s Long Island and everything in between—while under the influence of pills taken over a three-day period. (The cause for this drug crossover is revealed early on, but there might be more to it.)

Other test subjects are present, but the show only requires us to care about Annie and Owen’s struggles and inner demons: broken relationships and an addiction to a Neberdine drug for her, possible schizophrenia for him. Stone and Hill make it easy to care. It could be because we’ve seen them together on screen before (hi, someone make a Superbad sequel, please) but it could also be because this is some of their best acting ever. That, and the eerie feeling one can’t shake: somewhere in Annie and Owen are familiar versions of ourselves, trying our best to stay afloat, no matter how messy things get and can still get.

maniac netflix

Leading the team of scientists at Neberdine are Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux and a toupee) and Dr. Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno and her killer bangs). There’s some romantic history between these two characters, but it doesn’t even matter: they gave their blood, sweat, and tears to the experiment long ago, and will likely do whatever it takes to see it through.

Despite his character’s terrible hairpiece and garish first scene (he’s found pleasuring himself with some invention involving animation and a machine that’s hooked up to his um, penis), Theroux is a joy to watch. Together with Mizuno, who was most recently in Crazy Rich Asians, the two emit the sort of energy that makes one feel taken care of, in and out of a lab setting. You might not know what’s going on at all times during the course of this experiment—ie., the show—but as long as these two are in their lab coats muttering complicated medical terms, it’s guaranteed to be an interesting and fulfilling ride.

maniac netflix

No matter where you stand on the plot once the credits roll for a final time, this much is true: Maniac challenges its viewers to take a leap and get uncomfortable, just like the volunteers in the pharma trial. This isn’t The Great British Bake Off or Game of Thrones. There isn’t a learned method of how to watch Maniac. And it definitely does not demand a specific type of attention and expectation a show can only get through multiple seasons. There’s only one limited season. It’s all you get from this masterful grouping of talent, but it might be great fun—and that possibility is enticing and addicting.

 

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