By Oscar Yanek
“Maniac” is a Netflix Original series that focuses on the lives of Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill), both of whom are trial subjects for a new “cure all” treatment for any mental illness. However, things do not go as planned, and the audience follows the two protagonists along their disturbing journeys through their own minds. The story of “Maniac” is a complex puzzle that the audience is carefully led through by director and show creator Cary Joji Fukunaga. Fukunaga expertly pushes classic television ideas to the extreme, with each new episode sending the audience through a different genre of film, and with each episode’s sub plot contributing to the outside narrative of the entire story. The level of flexibility required of the actors is immense, and to Stone and Hill’s credit they do a great job at keeping up with the speedy pace of the show.
Visually, the show is a sight to behold. The retro-futurism aesthetic that the world of “Maniac” creates helps immerse the viewer and provides the perfect tone for the gritty and mind-bending contents of the show. The casting of Stone and Hill was perfect for the tone of the show. Hill plays a depressed schizophrenic who is ignored by his wealthy family, while Stone is broke, lacks a real, human relationship, and does not have any plan for her life. From just the first episode in the show, “Maniac” creates characters with depth and relatable struggles that the viewer can identify with. The story is interesting and engaging and the ending provides a unique twist that matches with the tone of the rest of the season.
Though an interesting and suspenseful story, “Maniac” falls short, occasionally, at providing a fair and factual look at what it is like living with a mental illness. For a show focused on characters going into their own minds and physically overcoming certain mental health issues, there is not a substantial explanation of some of these illnesses. This is not entirely the show’s fault, since there is only so much that can be covered in 40 minute episodes. However, some aspects of problems real people face are either exaggerated or misinterpreted. Through only showing the viewpoints of two white millenials from New York, the show skips over the experiences of a majority of people suffering from these illnesses.
“Maniac” is one of the first in the modern wave of media willing to take risks, and in funding the project, Netflix has shown that it is willing to support riskier topics and ideas by giving them a platform. Even with some of its flaws, “Maniac” is definitely a work of art, an adventure, and definitely a must watch for anyone with a Netflix account.
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Featuring: Jonah Hill, Emma Stone