HomeTelevisionReview: Maniac May Just Be Netflix's Boldest Series Ever

Review: Maniac May Just Be Netflix’s Boldest Series Ever

Photo Credit: Netflix

Maniac Plot Summary:

Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill), and Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) are two subjects in a pharmaceutical trial. Both have come to the try for different reasons — Annie to score a drug that she’s addicted to, and Owen to make money, and discover the hidden conspiracy that might be lurking out there.

To describe Netflix’s new limited series, Maniac, in one word it’d be, bold.

Being bold, especially in this current boom period of innovative television content is a must. Of course there is one major caveat with being bold — the possibility of unmitigated disaster.

On paper, given the casting you could see potential for a disaster, or at least a disappointment. Netflix is no stranger to unique, innovative series, but when it comes to projects with A-List Hollywood talent, it’s either big misses (e.g. Will Smith in Bright, Brad Pitt in War Machine, Paul Rudd in Mute), or have played it safe (e.g. any Adam Sandler comedy not named The Meyerowitz Stories). With the exception of Jason Bateman in Ozark, and Paul Rudd’s return (and for that matter Bradley Cooper as well) to Wet Hot American Summer, most top-billed Hollywood actors that’ve come to Netflix hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire.

That cannot be said about Maniac. The casting of Stone, and Hill — two Oscar nominees (and Stone an Oscar winner), and former Superbad co-stars, was a bold choice. And it’s a bold decision that pays off almost indescribably well.

It pays off because of the extremely bold choices director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, Bond 25), and writer/creator Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers) make with how they tell this story. The film literally jumps through time, space, and reality, thrusting Stone and Hill into different roles throughout the series. The duo are absolutely flawless in transitioning from character-to-character.

Hill has the most work to do in this regard as his main character, Owen (in the beginning of the series), is remarkably fragile. His dialogue at times is barely audible, as the pain etched across his face, and crippling his body drowns out his words. It’s a performance that you know is really good, but it takes you a bit to get into.

However, his ability to transition into the amiable, mulleted ’80s husband Bruce Marino then to the super suave film noirish theme Ollie is stunning. Hill’s range makes you forget his early days of teen sex comedies, and his current string of forgettable flicks. His work here is masterful, and should earn him an Emmy.

Stone, on the other hand, literally knocks it out off the park from the jump. Annie is a much more relatable character, and Stone effortlessly guides us through this quasi-addict’s barely held together life. The climax of the second episode, ‘Windmills,’ is literally an Emma Stone sizzle reel for the Emmys, it’s that good. Like Hill, her effortless transition into the brassy ’80s housewife Linda Marino then into smokey chanteuse Arlie is staggeringly great.

The chemistry between the two actors, regardless of their role, is dynamite. The Marinos segment is probably the most enjoyable to watch since both actors really get to flex their ample comedic muscles. One has to hope these two will work together again as what they bring out of each other’s performances is undeniable.

The rest of the cast is no joke either — Sally Field, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizumo, Jemima Kirke, Gabriel Byrne, and Billy Magnussen — all deliver the goods. However, none of them can hold a candle to Stone and Hill, nor are they supposed to.

While the bold choice in casting works, the bold choices in the storytelling require a lot of patience. To be perfectly fair, it would be easily understandable if someone checked in for the first episode, and then bailed. Maniac is not an easy show to get into. It requires a full sensory immersion from the viewer. You constantly have to be on the look out for clues, references, and small bits of information. Yes, this is a  “puzzle series” but given the structure of the story, which takes us inside of the minds and subconsciousness of our leads, it makes a lot of sense than say something like the puzzles in Castle Rock.

Cary Joji Fukunaga blows you away with his storytelling. Remember how much we loved everything in True Detective? The look, the feel, the performances, the world it built? Maniac is that on ample amount of psychedelics and steroids. He takes his “near future” set story and litters it with archaic ’70s and ’80s tech and aesthetics. It’s an odd blend of hipster cyberpunk for lack of a better phrase. Like his performers he’s able to switch tones, and styles effortlessly. He can go from this odd future to an ’80s comedy setting to a film noir to a fantasy epic in the span of a cut. Simply put — he’s getting a Creative Arts Emmy, and needs to direct so much.

Maniac is an amazing series. It’s really great on so many levels, but again, this is not a series for everyone. The series takes big risks, and if you’re not in the mood for a mind bender, you will not be okay with this series. However, if you’re willing to be bold, this series is going to repay you handsomely.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Maniac is currently streaming on Netflix.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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