I’ve often stated my growing disenchantment with modern TV. Having too many options sounds like a good thing but it really isn’t. It’s hard for any new show to become the talk of the town when there are so many options. Too many options mean a show has less time to grab your attention. Less time to grab your attention means a show will forego character and plot development by putting all of their cards on the table early. To make matters worse, having too many options in the age of streaming has even affected how episodes are being written. Have you watched a show on Netflix that has episodes comprised of 45 minutes of nothingness then 15 minutes of action that will force you to click ‘Next Episode’?
I can’t rant all day, so I’ll stop here.
Enter Maniac, the brainchild of talented director Cary Fukunaga. His resume includes the good season of True Detective, Beasts of No Nation, partial involvement in The Alienist, and the upcoming 25th James Bond movie. No suitable description of Maniac can be given without spoilers. In fact, I don’t even know if I can issue a recommendation for this show. It gets really weird. Sometimes even too weird. A full buy-in is required; this isn’t a show you can watch passively. With that said, I’m so appreciative of a show like this in 2018.
In simplest terms, Maniac is a show about Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone), who are both suffering from mental illnesses. They enlist in a pharmaceutical trial that requires them to take a series of experimental drugs. Each drug takes them deeper into their own minds to find the root of their problems.
With this simple description, what makes this show so ambitious? Well, nothing is handed to the viewer. The first episode makes absolutely no sense until you watch the second episode. A throwaway detail in the second episode won’t make sense until the fifth. What helps this show is its disinterest in following the conventions of modern-day TV. The longest episode is about forty minutes. The shortest is twenty-seven. That aforementioned 45 minute-15 minute split I hate so much isn’t present here. Since this show is a miniseries, it’s better to look at it as one piece of work. Although it’s broken into ten episodes, the pie is sliced unevenly. Episodes are chopped in a very interesting way but I found this to be crucial to its pacing.
My biggest reaction to this show is astonishment. I can’t believe it exists. Seriously, there’s one entire episode where Jonah Hill is sporting a mullet while wearing a Warren Moon jersey and his main goal is to help Emma Stone recover a stolen lemur [Not a spoiler, trust me]. Every weird turn this show takes makes it that much more interesting. It has some laugh out loud moments, a few that are sure to tug at your heartstrings, and a lot of awkwardness to fill in the rest. Although the initial pacing is “slow”, it’s deliberate. No moment is wasted and everything leads to a satisfactory conclusion. As silly as it sounds (considering there are only 10 episodes) if you can make it episode nine, you’re in for a real treat. It’s the funniest episode of this series but still finds balance by featuring one of the most thrilling sequences I’ve seen all year.
So while I can’t issue you a proper recommendation to this show, I’ll say watch at your own risk. It’s definitely not for everyone. However, Maniac is a fully realized vision of a talented director/writer and it’s the freshest thing on TV today. I’m happy it exists because it stands out in a crowd of generic shows. I want more risks, even if they don’t always pay off. So thank you, Maniac, for keeping the age of streaming weird.