Limited series Maniac is now streaming on Netflix.
[Ed. note: Being that TV and City is on a bit of a hiatus, this article has not been edited.]
By Chris Flanagan
If I’m being honest with you (and myself), I have to admit that I wrestled with writing about Maniac because I wanted to hate it. Hate is too strong. I wanted to dislike Maniac from the very beginning and dismiss it as being overly ambitious without delivering on its premise, but after the credits rolled I couldn’t. While not all of its risks worked, Maniac did manage to stay with me long after I finished it causing me to ponder just what the deeper and hidden meanings within the show were really trying to answer.
Before I go any further, I need to preface my opinion by stating that I am choosing to refrain from giving away any major details regarding the story because to fully experience Maniac is to go into it knowing as little as possible. Therefore, the only plot points that I feel will not deter from the journey is the base synopsis of the season: Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill), join a trial drug study based on their own personal reasons with each searching for answers that result in challenging everything they have come to believe as true about themselves and the world around them. If you’ve seen any promotional material about Maniac and you have not yet seen the show, then your mind can attempt to make the leap to guess where the show will take the characters, but I promise that will be done in vain as the actual extent the show reaches will be far beyond anything you can imagine.
The one major thing I can stress if you have not seen the show yet is patience. On its surface, Maniac is easy to write off as just being quirky and diverse. I was almost guilty of this myself but as Annie and Owen ventured further into their own psyches and layers began to peel back, a much deeper narrative and statement for what society sees as “fixes” for those that are in true pain began to emerge in a way that I didn’t foresee. The underlying struggle of people that have experienced loss or adversity and the lengths they will go to in order to find a semblance of happiness is astounding and it was the major piece of Maniac’s story that stayed in my mind well beyond the show’s end. The subtle prodding that Maniac conducts to this question over the course of its ten-episode run slowly builds to a fever pitch in the finale which leaves the characters in a state of ongoing growth that is difficult to quantify and therefore difficult to fully be satisfied with, however, while Maniac is rooted in a twisted sense of reality the downbeat in its ending leaves the viewer in a very sober place when it comes to seeking true resolution in the face of mounting pain.
Maniac is the mark of a vision that is unique and while its risks do not always execute correctly it still is an incredible ride that consistently gets better as each episode progresses. You understand the places the two main characters are in at the beginning of their story and realize the growth that each has experienced by the season’s end. And while it might not be how you would expect it to be, the journey to reach that end to the narrative is an interesting ride that left far more for me to question and think about well after I finished it than it did while watching. I strongly recommend Maniac if given the chance because while yes, it is weird, it is a great attempt at answering a life-long question of just how society perceives the treatment of loss and pain.
I give Maniac a B+.