Antler Express

The Mania Over ‘Maniac’

Is Netflix's new sci-fi "dramedy" just in all the praise it gets or does it fall flat?

Travis Henk, Reporter

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Is solving the human mind a fool’s errand or is it achievable? Could it be cured it of its ailments? Could humanity’s constraints of their insecurities and mental illnesses be unchained? That’s what scientist Dr. James K. Mantleray sets to find out in this new dark comedic piece of science fiction, Netflix’s own Maniac.

Our story begins with two deeply flawed individuals with some familiar faces. First, we meet Owen Milgrim, played by Jonah Hill.

Owen comes from a rich family in upstate New York-but he’s the black sheep of the family. One, he refuses to take money from them and instead works barely enough to support himself in his small one-room studio apartment, and two, Owen is diagnosed with schizophrenia and in the past has had large meltdowns.

Owen soon loses his advertising job and with no other choice he signs up for a pharmaceutical trail in the NPB Corporation to hopefully cure him. This is where he meets Annie Landsberg, played by Emma Stone, the other protagonist. Annie, in short, is an addict with almost no money, no motivation, and severe issues revolving around her fractured past with her younger sister Ellie and her mother. She, in turn, becomes addicted to the pill known as the “A Pill,” which is the first pill in the pharmaceutical trial mentioned prior. She then enters the trial through some not-so-legal actions and forms a strong bond with Owen. Annie and Owen then form an even stronger bond through the trial by essentially seeing into each other’s heads, by the fault of the malfunctioning A.I. robot G.R.T.A. (Gerty) made by Dr. Manta Ray and his assistant Dr. Azumi Fujita. Through G.R.T.A., they look through alternate realities of their lives together to try and resolve their problems, but when G.R.T.A. starts malfunctioning, they may not even make it out alive.

The way Cary Joji Fukunaga, the series director, sets the stage for the narrative is inspiringly gorgeous. The atmosphere is in a wonderful blade runner-esque setting with 80’s inspired motifs mixed in with future technology. In the dream sequences, the time periods are portrayed brilliantly from an elegant 1930’s estate party to an 80’s inspired suburbia to a Tolkien inspired fantasy setting.

This, of course, blended with the master cinematography. Cary is known for his other works like True Detective, where he always the stage perfectly.

The parts where the show shines brightest is through the masterful dialogue and acting from the whole cast, but especially Hill and Stone. All of this culminates into translating the overarching theme of togetherness and honesty through the story.

This series was not without its gripes, though. I found myself disappointed when Annie said she envisioned thousands of realities with Owen together, and the audience was alone shown a small few. I know these other visions could have added much more.

Also, at some point, the suspense is dropped suddenly when the audience is taken back from a dream sequence to the lab, where the action you were once enthralled with is replaced with mundane but essential lab talk. The miniseries overall presents a great narrative and does not disappoint in polish and representation, but it some areas the pacing is a bit rough, while the narrative left me wanting more. Maniac is a must watch for Netflix users and is definitely worthy of praise. With the astoundingly good, and the not-so-great, my verdict of Maniac is 8/10.

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