Netflix’s Maniac: A ten episode series about experimental psychiatric drugs and the power of friendship.
What it is: Jonah Hill is the mentally ill black sheep of a wealthy family, and Emma Stone is a con artist trying to score a rare new drug. Both them enter an experimental medical trial that messes with their minds. It’s a love story (kinda)!
What I’ve seen: The whole series
Is it good? I was pleasantly surprised
Quick thoughts: I wasn’t expecting to like Maniac, as much as I like director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who also wrote the series. I can be touchy about how mental illness is portrayed in media. This show also had so many different elements that I was sure it was going to collapse under its own weight. It’s a psychological thriller, and also a comedy, and also a psychedelic mindfuck, and also a family drama, and also a light satire of American society. Incredibly, Maniac fulfills the premise it lays out in its first episode, and it only keeps piling on new layers of surrealism as the series goes on.
Maniac first charmed me with the concept of the AdBuddy, a service that you can use to pay for train fare or cigarettes in exchange for having someone sit next to you and read you advertisements. It’s a subtle nod to how our society already works to some degree—I see so many advertisements on a daily basis that they’ve become background noise—but the show never seems smug or as if it’s imparting words of wisdom to all the sheeple like Fukunaga’s previous work on the show True Detective. In fact, Maniac isn’t cynical at all. It may posit that we live in a shitty and unfair world, which is hard to deny, but it urges its viewers to combat this by making connections to the people around them and to call upon them for strength. In a time where looking at the news in the morning can ruin your whole day, the sweetness at the heart of Maniac is not just welcome, it’s a lifeboat. Get out there and watch this snuggled up with someone you love.
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