I don’t watch a whole lot of television. In fact, you’d be unlikely to catch me watching anything other than the occasional “Twilight Zone” rerun. However, the other night I ended up binge-watching Netflix’s newest series “Maniac” in its entirety.
Here’s the thing about Netflix and its original content: it loves to autoplay whatever hot new movie or series is featured at the top of the webpage. So sheeple like me who go to www.netflix.com and forget to actually scroll down find themselves captive to whatever it is Netflix starts playing. Following this logic, I guess you could say I experienced some real Stockholm Syndrome this time.
“Maniac” is awesome. The darkly comedic series stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill; the two young actors admittedly enjoy working together, and their onscreen chemistry speaks for itself. “Maniac” opens up in a dystopian, not-so-futuristic, capitalist world, where little robots patrol the city streets for garbage and you can pay for things by watching advertisements (“AdBuddy”) and people take the elevators down to negative floor numbers. The show has lots of these creative sci-fi touches that immediately suck you into its universe.
The plot centers around a pharmaceutical trial for a new combination of drugs that are supposed to cure any illnesses of the mind. Two strangers, Annie (Stone) and Owen (Hill) cross paths during this trial, each of them desperate to help themselves — as you can guess, they end up helping each other along the way.
I won’t give too much away about the plot, but there are many great characters in this series. The two scientists who created the drug are like each other’s yin and yang. They contribute to a lot of the show’s lighter, more comedic moments, while the young and badass Dr. Azumi Fujita (portrayed by Sonoya Mizuno) gives certain scenes a tone of tension and urgency. The other main character in the series is — “A Space Odyssey” fans, you’re gonna love this — the sentient computer that runs and controls the entire trial.
The greatest thing about all the characters in this show is that they are multidimensional in pretty obvious ways. Every major character wears their flaws on their sleeves (even the cool and composed Dr. Fujita is seen smoking a cigarette in every scene that she’s in — a “cool” vice, perhaps, but a vice nonetheless).
The camera work and post-production on this series is impeccable. It’s visually stunning, and every shot feels important in some way. Whoever made the decisions on props and set design did a great job. In the scenes out in the city and in Owen’s apartment, I noticed lots of cacti. Using a plant that is usually found in a barren desert is a brilliant way to subtly convey the lifelessness of this dystopian city. Another little detail I loved is that during the trial, all the subjects go to sleep in pods, which are sleek and disappear right into the rounded white walls of the trial room. This was a really effective way of using a traditional element of the sci-fi genre without turning it into a cliche. There was a great balance between creative, original ideas and familiar, classic elements (like the pods).
“Maniac” also touches on a lot of relevant issues that people are already talking about today, such as mental illness and criminal justice as it pertains to powerful, rich, white men. Without giving too much away about the plot, Owen is put in a difficult position when his wealthy family wants him to testify for his brother, Jed, in court. The show does a good job portraying what it’s like living with mental illness, as both main characters suffer from their own minds. They often blur the lines between reality, and the mind’s reality, which will leave you as the viewer questioning what is actually going on in several scenes.
The show seems to leave us with many difficult questions. Are we as a society handling mental illness the right way? How can we do better? Should a mental disorder diagnosis be taken with a grain of salt? What’s more important, loyalty or the truth? Can psychedelic experiences with drugs help people “cure” their mental illness? Or are drugs just an “escape” that can only lead to addiction?