‘Maniac’ TV Show Review

Although I realise this is a film review page, in the last week I haven’t seen a film that really needs discussing; however, Maniac, the new Netflix limited series, really impressed me and felt like something I needed to talk about. It was a series I had anticipated for a very long time and had desperately hoped I would love; but after going on a bit of a dry spell with TV and film, I wasn’t sure it could come close to what I wanted it to. However, I started the series on Friday evening and finished all ten episodes in the brief intervening period to this (Sunday) morning, so it clearly had grabbed my attention…

What is it about?

Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill) is a paranoid schizophrenic and the black sheep of the Milgrim family. When he is asked to lie for the sake of his bully of a brother, Jed Milgrim (Billy Magnussen,) in court; he feels morally shaken and combined with the loss of his job, his schizophrenic outbreaks begin to to grow in frequency. Simultaneously, his presence is requested as a “hero patient” on a phase three pharmaceutical trial, that they say will cure his schizophrenia and help others (as understanding his unique brain pattern is highly attractive for their studies.) Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone,) on the other hand, is a very different character. She is a depressed, drug addict: who seems to flit between emotions in an instant; with the ultimate feeling always being that she is putting out an extroverted façade to hide some kind of suffering. The cause of her pain is not initially clear; however, when the supply of the drug she is addicted to disappears her distress shows a stark upturn and she is willing to do whatever she has to do to get it back. Her troubles ultimately land her a place on the same pharmaceutical trail as Owen. Their starkly different personalities initially drive the pair apart; but, when things start to go wrong, as they very soon do, they are unwilling intertwined together. But, what will their relationship mean for their individual fates and the ultimate outcome of the trial?

What did I think?

This show was not what I expected at all and I didn’t really know what to expect; as, I had chosen not to watch the trailer beforehand, so as to experience everything as it happened, and not to try and predict scenes between expected plot points. It was weird, wonderful and constantly shocking. Just when you thought you had a handle on where it was going, you were pulled in a completely different direction by it’s incredible narrative. I truly had no idea where it would finally end up and that’s not something I say lightly; as I don’t think I have ever been so completely clueless at a series’ potential progression as I was here.

Emma Stone is, without a doubt, my favourite actor and once again showcases her incredible talent with another extraordinary performance. However, I am happy to concede that in this instance she was outshone by Jonah Hill, who is nothing short of perfect in his role as Owen. I was drawn to him immediately, as his withdrawn, reserved and dejected demeanour connected with me personally and further exploration of his character really began to develop my empathy for him. Initially, his general sadness and struggles to fit in with the community and more specifically with his family, were just heartbreaking. But as the story progressed and these central ideas continued to connect, it seemed even more pertinent when they were expressed in different ways through countless incarnations of himself. I am certain that he will win awards for his performance here and if he doesn’t it is an absolute travesty. Other than those two I thought there were a number of strong performances across the board with special mentions from me going to: Justin Theroux and Sonoya Mizuno, who were both excellent.

This film was beautifully shot with fantastic scenes made up of: wonderful radiant colours, impressive landscapes and acute detail that followed through from the lab to every point of fantasy and reality. Another thing I found startling with this show was the product design. I thought the lab was incredible. All the noises and flashes of lights made the space come to life and despite a potential to be claustrophobic, due to it’s overall lack of space, I was never made to feel that way. In the ‘real’ world it seemed to take items from the past and contemporize them; but also had unique ideas for the future, like Ad Buddy and Cleaner Robots. This set the show in it’s own individual time period disconnected from our real world; however, unlike what you may expect, this didn’t disconnect me as a viewer from the action in the world that was developed. The same was true for the weird and wonderful places we were taken to in the minds of the characters; where although what was unfolding at times seemed completely non-sensical, I was engaged with: the narrative and characters, every step of the way and couldn’t wait to see more.

Additionally, what I felt completed my total engrossment with the series was the phenomenal score. The score complemented every scene perfectly and built tension even at times when nothing directly thrilling was happening. In the penultimate episode, a piece of music, that is also used in ‘Westworld,’ was used just after the 22nd minute and instantly invigorated my senses as you could sense that something big was going to be revealed or tied up (and it was.) Little bits like this throughout the film just added to my enjoyment. Finally, what I think this show did best was to let you put the pieces together for yourself. Often, something wasn’t initially obvious or didn’t seem to be of much importance; but then, as you continued to watch it would began to dawn on you that that specific scene from earlier may be pivotal in the development of the plot (the same was also true the other way around.) I think that this made the experience more personal and meant we were truly invested in the characters by the end.

This show doesn’t really have any negatives. Sure there were things when I thought: well that’s a bit weird or that does really make sense? But, after a few seconds these were quickly forgotten about as I moved on and continued to enjoyed the show. Looking back on it now I can’t pinpoint a single thing that I actually take issue with. The time zone was confusing but ultimately it worked in it’s favour. The Cleaner Robots were odd but they were a fun part of the film that contributed to a fantastic ending. And finally, although the plot was very broad; by the end I felt all of the elements it went into were fully explored, perfectly executed and not stretched in the slightest.

My Rating- 10/10

This show is exceptional. The ending is perfect and unlike many films and TV shows that take a brief five minutes or less to conclude things; here we had a whole episode devoted to exploring everything set up from inside the lab back out in the world. I thought every component part was perfect and contributed to a dazzling final product. It has even made me consider doing something I never have before, which is: watching it all over again. Although this time I will spread it out and really savour the experience, rather than just rushing through it eager to receive the next thrill. I can not stress enough how good this show is and would heartily recommend it to everyone.

Wow. What a show.

P.S- In case any one is interested my rankings for favourite TV shows is as follows:

  1. Maniac
  2. Westworld
  3. Stranger Things
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale
  5. End of the F***ing World
  6. Rick and Morty
  7. GLOW
  8. The Marvellous Mrs Maisel

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