“Maniac,” with its virtual reality romances, artificial intelligence and imaginative realities of magical elves quickly becomes the weirdest and most interesting show of the year, despite a somewhat slow start.
The limited series, directed by Cary Fukunaga, sees two strangers, Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill), make an unusual connection during a trial for an experimental pharmaceutical drug.
While the show eventually blossoms into an incredibly bizarre and imaginative series, the first couple of episodes are admittedly a chore and quite tedious to get through. The first episode serves mostly as exposition and is rather monotonous. The characters start out unlikeable and give the audience no real reason to root for them. Despite Emma Stone’s absolutely enthralling performance, the second episode mostly suffers from the same fate. It is not until the third episode that the story starts to delve into a truly outlandish place and the audience starts to genuinely root for the two protagonists.
“Maniac” is one of the most uniquely eccentric shows Netflix has ever produced. What starts as a series about mental illness spirals into an emotional and action-packed hybrid of genres. It is obvious that creator Patrick Somerville and Fukanaga had a vision, but they created such a rich world and mythos that explaining that vision might prove to be difficult. At its core, the series is a beautiful story about individualism, told in a complex narrative of action, adventure and trippy sequences.
One of the series’ best qualities is that it transcends the constraints of genre. Despite being one of the funniest shows of the year, many would object to calling it a comedy. “Maniac” takes a handful of genres, from medieval fantasy to science fiction, and is able to ground them in the central story taking place. If the limited series was actually a continuing one, it would be fascinating to see if people would classify it as a comedy or drama, especially since it blurs the line of classification even more with an average episodic run time of 38 minutes.
The series also excels in its production values, which is all around some of the best technical work in any TV show this year. Dan Romer’s riveting score, Darren Lew’s gorgeous cinematography, and Alex DiGerlando’s production design are on an entirely different level than most shows on television today. Of course, there are so many other areas that are quite excellent as well.
The absolute highlight, however, is without a doubt Stone, whose performance proves exactly why she is an Oscar winner. Stone brings an entirely new performance to the table and completely subverts expectations. One minute, she is making the audience laugh from the gut, and the next tears will be flooding from the eyes of every viewer.
Of course, Stone’s performance is not the only one that stands out. Hill is a fantastic partner for Emma Stone, but the next best has to be Justin Theroux, who gives one of his best and most hilarious performances yet. His character, Dr. James Mantleray, has one of the best character introductions in recent memory. The ensemble never disappoints, with fantastic performances also from Julia Garner, Soniya Mizuno and Sally Field.
At the end of the day, “Maniac” is must-see television. It possesses some flaws, but it is a beacon of hope for originality and creativity that is bound to inspire. “Maniac” is an innovative and beautifully produced series, with astonishing performances all around. The ending is an absolutely beautiful buildup that is most definitely worth the watch, even if the first couple of episodes lean towards being lackluster.