REVIEW

Maniac

OR (Digital Tears Matter)




WORDICT

Perfection






ELITE METER
0
%








BYTE THE BULLET
A brazen, wonderfully acted roller-coaster for the ages. Recommended.

PLOT

Two individuals on the opposite sides of the spectrum cross paths during a drug trial headed by an eccentric scientist.


The year is 2014. Writer-actor Espen P.A. Lervaag and Håkon Bast Mossige team up to co-create and star in the quirky Maniac, an appropriately titled television series about a bored everyman who withdraws himself into his over-the-top imaginations while in a psychiatric facility. The show’s arc, while distinctly divergent in structure, feels thematically akin to James Thurber’s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Every fantasy in the central character’s head is a clue that sets to unlock the missing piece of the overall arc between the mundane and the maniacal. It is well-received but, unsurprisingly, relatively unknown Stateside—until a couple months ago, that is.

The show continues to maintain a surprisingly consistent focus on real-world inner demons.

The show continues to maintain a surprisingly consistent focus on real-world inner demons.

Adapted by director Cary Fukunaga (HBO’s True Detective Season 1, 2014) and writer Patrick Somerville, Netflix’s newest original miniseries shares some DNA of its Norwegian source (including its title), but veers so far from it that it feels like its own beast right from its first few minutes. For its first three episodes, the show aims to introduce—and acclimatize—its viewers to a city stuck in time-fractured limbo. The people who live in it rely mostly on past technology in a world that otherwise includes dog-doody cleaning bot-dogs and a trash-talking purple sentient AI koala-bear replicant—and this is just the beginning. Once the pieces come together and character arcs have been established, viewers are introduced to a roller-coaster ride that’s breathless, beautiful, bizarre, and almost always wonderfully brazen—both structurally and emotionally.

Maniac’s very first episode starts off with a Malick-meets-Gondry big-bang-universe montage narrated off-screen by Dr. James Mantleray (Justin Theroux; Mulholland Drive, 2001), whose delivery of the word “amoeba” is so emphatic you’d want to believe he created life on Earth. Fukunaga, who’s busy carefully developing an image-system around its two protagonists—Annie (Emma Stone; La La Land, 2016) and Owen (Jonah Hill; War Dogs, 2016)— delegates the duties of introducing them to Mantleray. As viewers will get to know in the episodes that follow, he’s pompous and emotionally volatile, and if there’s anybody who could make the lives of two broken individuals about himself, it’s him. So how does he introduce them? By breaking down hypotheses and corollaries, of course. Rudimentary exposition isn’t his style.

Image

Smokin' Hot Wheels

Emma Stone stars in Patrick Somerville and Cary Fukunaga's Maniac, a Netflix Original miniseries produced by Paramount Television and Anonymous Content.

“The pattern is the pattern,” the makers repeatedly remind us—and so is the Maniac‘s structure. Owen is a living, breathing representation of a hypothesis. He may or may not be sick—we’re never really given all the info, and it’s all left open to interpretation. Annie, on the other hand, represents a corollary. Her flaws, feelings, and fears can easily be traced down to the two most influential people in her life—her mother and her sister. They’re two individuals so far from each other in the socioeconomic spectrum, it’s almost hard to see how would their paths cross. Except they do, at a drug trial spearheaded by Mantleray (of course) who claims the mind “can be solved.” And this is where the show dials its absolute madness right up to eleven.

[…] Maniac‘s packed with so much [that] needs to be seen to be believed.

[…] Maniac‘s packed with so much [that] needs to be seen to be believed.

Jumping between genres—we’re transported through an eighties relationship drama, a fifties heist-movie archetype, a chapter with Tolkien’s Middle Earth throwback, et al.—the show continues to maintain a surprisingly consistent focus on real-world inner demons. The fantasies are as different from the reality as they can be, and yet, they feel peculiarly familiar. Narratives like these need actors who understand the created world really well. Stone and Hill, fortunately, are just the kind; both absolute stunners as their core characters Annie and Owen, as well as their bonkers meta alter-egos. Of course, they’re not the only ones having all the fun. Theroux is incredible as the scientist with mommy issues, and Sonoya Mizuno’s (Crazy Rich Asians, 2018) restraint balances comedy and earnestness with grace and confidence. Working brilliantly off their strengths—and their characters’ weaknesses—the two manage to generate excellent chemistry.

That apart, Maniac’s packed with so much more that needs to be seen to be believed—this includes Academy Award winner Sally Field (Hello, My Name is Doris, 2015), who… is in the show, and that’s all you’re going to get if you’re yet to watch it. Fukunaga and Somerville aren’t afraid to go places they shouldn’t. Buttons are pushed, answers are withheld, and a lot of narrative decisions are fascinatingly abrupt. In a show that clearly owns its progressively gonzo mind-bending plot devices, however, it becomes quite clear it’s what the makers intended. The show might superficially be about a drug trial gone wrong, but it unpacks a whole lot more than you’d either have imagined or bargained. It’s the kind of exceptionally acted, ambitiously mounted, and highly unpredictable television that deserves every bit of attention it can get.


VERDICT

If you’re a viewer who doesn’t mind—maybe even enjoys—subversive narrative decisions that continue to toy with (and probably even break) your expectations, you’ll love every gorgeously mounted second of Maniac. Highly recommended.

ABOUT
THE AUTHOR

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

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Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook Twitter

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook Twitter

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.