This week sees the debut of Netflix’s new original series, Maniac, which already has people talking following its enticing yet cryptic trailers. It’s nothing if not ambitious in its approach. And with the newly announced ‘Bond 25’ director Cary Fukunaga — who replaces the departing Danny Boyle — the creative talent behind the immersive new show, there’s every reason to get very excited indeed about the next Bond adventure. But first, here’s why Maniac will be your next binge-watch.
It’s Daring Premise
As much as you may want to find out for yourself just what Maniac is about before you delve into Netflix’s latest mini-series, which is based on a 2014 Norwegian show of the same name, our advice is to go in as cold as you possibly can and let it wash over you before you start attempting to decipher it. You may have watched the trailer already so let’s start there: our two protagonists, Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill) are sitting in a cold, white room with multiple cameras aimed directly at their faces.
“Do you know where you are?” says Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux), the doctor at the centre of the drug trial both Annie and Owen have signed up for.
“Is this therapy now?” Annie replies.
“It’s not therapy, it’s science,” retorts Mantleray and, just like that, we go tumbling down the labyrinthine rabbit hole of Maniac as it begins to meld the real and the unreal.
You don’t need us to tell you that the talent here, both in front of and behind the camera, is insanely good and only makes us love the show even more. Front and centre are Hill and Stone, who reunite for the first time since their hilariously awkward moments in 2007’s Superbad. Maniac is a different beast altogether. But you can see why both were attracted to the project as it takes each of them out of their comfort zones. Both Hill and Stone, however, excel in their very different roles.
Stone, fresh from her Oscar win last year for La La Land, takes on a role that is most similar to that she played in Birdman but with more rough edges. Hill, meanwhile, is a revelation: much has been made of his weight loss going into the show but it’s how he strips down in front of the camera as Owen that is the story here. Quiet and reserved, Owen is all at sea, unable to connect to anything or anyone after being branded the “black sheep” and hopes this pharmaceutical trial will provide him with both answers and acceptance.
…And Their Supporting Players
Whilst many will be drawn into the show by Stone and Hill’s presence, there is a plethora of amazing talent alongside them that helps to fully realise the world that ensconces them. Beginning with the aforementioned Justin Theroux, whose performance as Dr. Mantleray could rival his superb turn in The Leftovers if what we have seen so far is any indication, through Sonoya Mizuno (Stone’s co-star in La La Land) as his colleague Dr. Fujita, one of the brains behind the drug trial company, and Julia Garner, who dazzled in 2015’s magnificent Grandma. Then there’s the small matter of Academy Award Winner Sally Field (Mrs. Doubtfire, Lincoln) who plays Dr. Greta Mantleray. The name would suggest that she’s James’s mother but as with the show itself, not knowing precisely what role she plays is half the fun.
Its Visionary Director and Writer
One of Hollywood’s most visionary filmmakers working today, Cary Fukunaga has already carved himself a stellar career in a relatively short space of time. Beginning with the incredible Sin Nombre in 2009 through Jane Eyre and Beasts of No Nation with Idris Elba, Fukunaga has garnered heaps of praise and many have long believed he’d go on to bigger things. Indeed, he was originally on board to direct last year’s monster hit IT, with the latest project he’s attached to being Bond 25. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
It’s 2014’s True Detective for which is perhaps still best known, the magnificent first season still one of the last decade’s best moments in film and TV. With Maniac, he and writer Patrick Somerville, who brought us The Leftovers and The Bridge, deliver a series that’s both mesmeric and thoughtful and showcases Fukunaga’s incisive directorial style characterised by his close attention to detail.
The Magnificent Design
You may have already got a sense of the world Maniac inhabits but trust us when we say you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Set in a hyperreal hybrid of 2018 New York City knitted together with elements from the 1970s and 1980s, Maniac’s setting — in both time and space — is purposely undefined, enticing you into its environment while leaving things surreally indeterminate.
Computers look old and cumbersome, the kind that would have taken ages to load up a floppy disk like back in days of Amigas, but in Maniac they are probably more powerful than you could imagine. Indeed, the look of the show is very sci-fi, clearly influenced by the likes of Alien, Blade Runner, Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, to name a few. It’s both familiar and its own unique beast, creating a world that is resplendent yet murky, liberating but dangerous. It’s immersive — so much so that you may never want to leave.
Down The Rabbit Hole We Go
“Once you begin to appreciate the structure of the mind, there’s no reason to believe that anything about us can’t be changed. Pain can be destroyed, the mind can be solved.” Perfectly summing up what the show is going to be, Maniac is all about delving into the dark recesses of our minds — or, in this case, Annie and Owen and their fellow subjects’ minds — and trying to “fix” our ailments. But is such drastic therapy going to do more damage?
In the show, it seems that we will be travelling into the minds of the subjects, seeing moments in time we’ll probably never quite know are real or not. Indeed, there’s much to be said about mental health and how it is treated in modern society and the show tries to tackle that theme at its core. There are three pills the subjects take through their trials, and whether such trials are a good thing or not and whether a dependency on drugs, in whatever form, is the best way to solve our problems are topics also explored. It’s deep and powerful stuff and while we may not get any definitive answers, the ride is why we bought the ticket.
Maniac premieres on Netflix on September 21.