Since the arrival of “Black Mirror,” Netflix has fully embraced the mind warping, psychological thrill that has drawn viewers to the dark side of visual entertainment.
“Maniac” is the perfect addition to this new era of mind-warping shows. This binge-worthy dark comedy features two test subjects brought together through a pharmaceutical trial.
The futuristic setting of a dystopian New York plays heavily into ‘90s motifs, revealing a world that has taken a step backwards in all useful and aesthetic technology.
Owen Milgrim, played by Jonah Hill, is an emotionally unstable man who stumbles upon the trial, looking for a way out of his chaotic life in any form.
Annie Landsberg, played by Emma Stone, graces her role as a drug-addicted woman, hell-bent on remembering the horrors of her past.
Drawn in by the circumstances of their seemingly pitiful lives and the promise of a permanent solution to all their troubles, they embark on the test of a lifetime. Throughout the episodes they are asked to take three pills. Each one presents a different approach to confronting the problems in their lives.
The connection between the two becomes more enhanced as technology allows them to peer into each other’s dreams and nightmares. The overwhelming presence of technology capable of altering their realities in the show seems to foreshadow some kind of eminent doom.
The plotline becomes a whirlwind that takes you through a sporadic montage of scenarios within the main story. The fantasies that director Cary Joji Fukunaga invites the viewers to join are enticing but sometimes confusing. Luckily, the two protagonists periodically remind the audience of what the reality really is.
The man behind “Maniac,” Fukunaga, is no stranger to the thrill of dark visuals. He was also a co-writer for the screenplay of the 2017 movie, “It.” He appeals to deeper emotions inside all of us, as viewers see the characters in “It” and “Maniac” wrestling with their inner demons.
The viewer begins to better understand the characters through the use of flashbacks, which subjects the audience to their past grievous circumstances. Scandal, death and trauma haunt the minds of these test subjects, as the audience travels further down the rabbit hole.
Although they aren’t fully understanding why they have a connection in the first place, viewers see a relationship begin to blossom throughout the episodes. Annie fully embraces this connection as the season wears on, becoming the hero Owen always dreamed of.
Viewers see Owen’s character progression and can’t help but notice the depth that he ultimately brings to the show. Although his usual unenthusiastic speech and lack of emotion seem to bog the character down to the stereotypical stigma he is portraying, Stone effortlessly offers the comedic relief, reminding the viewers why they love to watch her on screen.
The unstable characters and blatant portrayal of mental health issues clearly illustrate the thoughtfulness of each episode. It centers around how people respond to issues that may not be visible on the surface and the courage it takes to confront a deep-seated emotional issue within oneself.
Ultimately, it is about the power that can come from recognizing our own self-worth.
“Maniac” takes the audience on a virtual ride across the corners of the viewers’ mind showing them what lies inside is capable of so much more than others may know. It slowly allows the two main characters to seep into the vulnerable parts that make up everyone. Owen and Annie show the many complications that life can bring and the empowerment that can come from facing them.