You’re a maniac if you haven’t checked out Netflix’s new series starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone.
With Netflix releasing more original series than ever before, it can be difficult to decide what’s really worth spending a valuable weekend binge watching. However, if you were on the fence about Maniac, I’m here to tell you why it needs to be the next show in your queue.
Maniac follows two characters who have been beaten down by the world in very different ways. Their circumstances lead them both to participate in a mysterious and risky drug trial that promises to erase their trauma and “solve all of their problems.” As they make their way through the trial together, they both have a much different experience than they anticipated.
Admittedly, I was drawn to the show because of its stars, not its premise. I’m a huge fan of both Jonah Hill and Emma Stone, and was excited to see them reunite for the first time since Superbad, which I love.
Full disclosure, Maniac is nothing like Superbad. After watching the series, I can whole-heartedly say that neither Hill or Stone disappointed in the least! Their performances are reason enough to watch Maniac, whether you’ve been fans of them previously, or not. They’re two stars that have shown a tremendous ability to handle both comedy and drama, and they’re both operating at the top of their game in Maniac.
As they make their way through the drug trial, we see them take on multiple characters and alternate realities, as the drug attempts to identify their trauma and figure out what’s wrong with them. This means that Hill and Stone get to take on not only multiples characters, but multiple genres over the course of the series.
From a lower-middle-class suburban couple to an Icelandic diplomat to an Elf guide, they explore many sides of their characters while still portraying their full depth in each reality. On top of that, moments of levity play with so much more hilarity due to their commitment to their characters and the stakes that naturally spawn from that.
That being said, this review is much more than a love letter to the talents of Jonah Hill and Emma Stone. To focus only on their performances would be a tremendous disservice to the magnificent dramatic sci-fi comedy that writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga has created with Maniac.
The world that Maniac takes place in is immediately fascinating. It accomplishes a brand of retro-futurism that is both intimately familiar and delightfully intriguing. You’ll feel like you’ve lived through the exact same moments that the characters are experiencing while at the same time, you’ll see elements of the world that will either put a huge smile on your face or send you down a thought spiral until Maniac’s next enticing moment pulls you out.
The mind-bending way that their world handles advertising (an “ad buddy” will follow you around reading promotional material if you can’t pay for something), a hilariously altered Statue of Liberty, and countless blink-and-you’ll-miss-it background images come together to both build a full and real world while providing some of the series’ funniest elements.
Another great point of comedy in the series is the supporting cast of characters, particularly the doctors running the drug trial. Justin Theroux stars alongside Sonoya Mizuno and Sally Field to make up the team. However, these characters aren’t simply comic relief. When they’re not making you laugh out loud, they’re falling into their own fascinating subplot involving artificial intelligence and medical ethics. Honestly, if Maniac were to get a second season, I’d vote for it to follow this group, rather than the leads. There’s just a lot more story to tell with them, going forward!
While the series is highly comedic, you’ll quickly get swept up in the mysteries surrounding the characters and the drug trial, which will keep you guessing and drive the story through to the end. Maniac definitely isn’t a show that you have running in the background. Its eccentricities demand your full attention, and you won’t regret handing them over. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it demands your full attention again and again. It’s the kind of show that you will always be able to discover new elements of.
Despite everything it’s juggling with the combination of exquisite character development, world building, comedy and sci-fi, Maniac’s greatest strength is still its astonishing amount of heart. It’s a story about love and companionship on so many levels that will leave you feeling great.
Cool colors, an epic score, and a focus on mental illness are more of the many elements that make Maniac a trip that you seriously need to take. It’s got everything you’re looking for and it’s delivering it in a beautifully shot, impeccably acted package.
Next time you’re aimlessly scrolling through Netflix, stop on Maniac and allow yourself to get as sucked in as I did. Or better yet, go watch it right now!
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