I didn’t appreciate or even like Maniac until after I had finished it. But it’s persistence lying within its ability to wrestle with questions of human loss and pain lingered with me where I began to realize the true value of its remarkable approach to telling a common story in a very strange and skewed manner.
Maniac is best experienced knowing as little as possible about the story in order for its full effect to be accurately felt. The story centers around Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill) as they enter a drug trial study from a prominent pharmaceutical company that is bent on eliminating the need for therapy directed towards people who are coping with pain or loss. From there, go ahead and dispel everything you think you know or might understand about the show because it manages to surpass and twist every perceived expectation going in eventually finding its place as an extremely unique and singular hallucination that serves as an apt direction towards mental illness, loneliness, and pain.
The superb choice of Stone and Hill as Annie and Owen does an excellent job of showing just how the right combination of actors can elevate a vision from being something different to something rare and infrequent in today’s television landscape. Both Stone and Hill excel in their own ways as they methodically push their characters to uncomfortable places that, while strange, are still somewhat familiar and entertaining all the same. Their roles are enhanced by Maniac’s supporting cast featuring Sonoya Mizuno, Justin Theroux, and an equally humorous and chilling performance from Billy Magnussen.
Over time, each supporting character evolves into memorable components that change the dynamic of how Annie and Owen seek change within themselves throughout the season. But the true vision of Maniac would not be realized were it not for director Cary Joji Fukunaga. His attention to detail and the subtleties of everyday life are a driving factor in keeping the viewer completely engaged with the story. As Maniac unfolds, the visual expression that compliments the narrative is near breathtaking as it chooses to not reach for grandeur or grandiose set pieces but instead is able to find beauty in the ordinary. This surgical approach to detail never allows the eyes to rest as there is something in every single scene of every episode that the eyes can fixate their attention towards without becoming overwhelmed or fatigued resulting in the viewer becoming completely immersed in the adventure just as the characters are doing the same.
As mentioned, it wasn’t until after finishing Maniac that its concepts and questions began rising to the forefront to the extent that it it will consume viewers for long periods after. It’s ability to linger in the viewer’s mind well after the event occurs is a staple in TV and film achieving its desired effect and that is something that makes watching something new so worthwhile. In this respect, Maniac delivered well beyond expectations and is worth not just watching but experiencing. It’s a ride that is seldom achieved in television today and while its risks do not always manifest with the desired effect they hit more than miss to deliver a truly extraordinary occurrence.