Maniac – Review and Analysis


Oliver Folan, Contributor

Maniac – Review and Analysis

Oliver Folan ’22, Contributor



Created by: Cary Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville

Directed by: Cary Fukunaga

Spoiler-Free Review

Maniac is one of the most unique, creative, and beautiful shows to come out in a very long time. Every episode is injected with energy, emotions, and laughs. To stuff Maniac into a category would be to do it a disservice. There are funny moments, there are unsettling moments, there are dramatic moments, and there are even lengthy action scenes. It is definitely odd, to say the least.

The show revolves around two characters entering a pharmaceutical drug trial, testing the A, B, and C-pills. These drugs cause the characters to hallucinate and to gradually become drawn to each other. However, they both volunteered for different reasons. Owen, played by Jonah Hill, is schizophrenic and hopes these drugs will help him with his affliction before he testifies at his brother’s trial. Annie, played by Emma Stone, is addicted to one the three drugs present in this trial because of something from her past, and is hoping to get her hands on the pill again. Jonah Hill and Emma Stone both give incredible performances, but the real standout here is Jonah Hill. It is well known by now that Jonah Hill has incredible range as an actor. He can go from a comedic role in The Wolf of Wall Street, to a more serious role in Moneyball. Here he plays a more subdued and laid-back sort of character because there is so much going on in his mind, but in every hallucination we see Jonah Hill in, he gives a different performance. In Episode 7, “Ceci N’est Pas Une Drill,” and Episode 8, “The Lake of the Clouds,” he plays a very calm and collected gangster. In Episode 9, “Utangatta,” he plays an extremely loud and excited European in a WW2 setting accused of murdering an alien. These are all hallucinations due to drug test. Jonah Hill also does an incredible job of portraying schizophrenia, and by the end of the show, I genuinely cared for him. Emma Stone is amazing, as always. The show definitely spends a lot of time exploring Annie’s relationship with her sister, and her backstory was very compelling. The way Maniac builds its characters is through these hallucinations, which will often take up the whole episode. You start to realize that these events that are happening in their minds are a representation of how they are feeling, and if you re-watch certain episodes, you will notice certain characters and visuals coming back in these dreams. Not only do these episodes serve as a way to deliver some very entertaining side stories, but they also serve as a unique way to flesh out these characters.

Cary Fukunaga meticulously directed this show. He makes the futuristic retro setting pop in every shot, and he manages to put a fair amount of his own style in it as well. Technically, this show is commendable. The cinematography is very bright, the production design is surprisingly amazing for a Netflix show, and the editing is something to behold.

Justin Theroux plays Dr. James Mantleray, an extremely weird scientist who takes over Dr. Muramoto’s position at the pharmaceutical lab after his untimely death. Justin Theroux is hilarious in this role and is one of the funniest parts about the show. Dr. Fujita, played by Sonoya Mizuno, also works at this lab and is a very memorable character. The actress has primarily taken on more quiet roles, like in Ex Machina, but here she delivers a lot of personality to her character. Sally Field plays Greta Mantleray, a prominent psychiatrist who has written a load of books and is also Dr. James Mantleray’s mom. Their relationship is weird. She is brought in to deal with the GRTA, or Gertie, an A.I. who controls the trial and gets severely depressed after Dr. Muramoto dies. Again, very weird.

Maniac is not without its flaws, however. One of the biggest problems of the show is the over-abundance of exposition. There are a lot of scenes where the characters will explain to the audience what is happening, and while some of these scenes are funny and unique, like the scene where they explain the pills and the trial in the video, most of them are boring. However, some of these scenes are necessary, because Maniac is confusing. There were also parts where they spend a little too much time talking about Annie’s sister. This is definitely more of a nit-pick, but they spent much more time talking about Annie compared to Owen, who was just as compelling. But, by the end of the show, it’s clear that this was their intention. Maniac is given the very changing task of balancing drama and comedy, and while this works extremely well in a lot of moments, Episode 4 in particular, but towards the end, it wasn’t pulled off as flawlessly as it could have been.


Spoiler-Filled Analysis

            One of the best episodes of the entire show is Episode 4, “Furs by Sebastian.” It takes place directly after they take the B-pill at the end of the Episode 3. It revolves around Owen and Annie’s hallucination, in which they become different characters. Although, there are certain parallels between what is happening in reality and in the hallucinations. Episode 4 is an extremely well thought-out story about how Emma Stone’s character delivers a lemur to the mother of the man who crashed his truck into Annie and her sister’s car, killing her sister. The episode starts off very light-hearted, with Annie and Owen stealing a lemur from the owners of a fur store, and then something in particular happens, and the rest of the episode is extremely unsettling. When Annie and Owen get to the house after they steal back the lemur, Annie goes inside to give it to the woman, leaving Owen in the car. Owen reads a book written by Greta Mantleray. If you read the book, you will find many Easter eggs. The first two paragraphs of the book talk about how relationships affect your life and the following relationships. The third paragraph talks about how to deal with a break up between you and a loved one, and even refers directly to Owen’s schizophrenic break he had on a girl in high school who had been paid to like him by his family. This has haunted Owen ever since and he worries that this would happen again. The last line of the page, however, says, “Have you ever thought about just apologizing and moving on?” After we see the book, the large truck that ran into Annie’s car, killing her sister, zooms past Owen. This causes Annie and Owen to both pause and question what just happened. Annie had always been haunted by the death of her sister, Ellie, and took the A-pill on a daily basis hoping to make herself feel better. This is not healthy, however. Instead of reliving the same moment over and over again, you just need to apologize and move on. At the end of Episode 9, when Annie finally gets to talk to her dead sister, Annie just apologizes for literally everything she has done, and it is in no way subtle. Going back and watching the show again, the theme about how to deal with a loss of a loved one is extremely prevalent and becomes clear very quickly that it is what the show is about. Annie also isn’t the only character to deal with loss. Gertie loses Dr. Muramoto and becomes severely depressed, Dr. James Mantleray deals with the loss of his father and picks up a very inappropriate obsession, and Owen loses his distinction between what is real and what is not real, which is increased when Owen thinks that this girl in his high school liked him but ended up being paid by his family to talk to him. After Annie deals with her loss, she learns to forget and falls in love with Owen, and when Annie falls in love with Owen, he is happy. One of the last shots of the Maniac shows Annie and Owen driving away from this hospital, and we see Owen smile for one of the first times in the show. It’s extremely touching.

Spoiler-Free Conclusion

Maniac is one of the best shows in recent years. Sometimes, watching almost 7 hours of television can be a daunting task, but this show absolutely flies by. It has extremely likable and interesting characters played wonderfully by Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, and Justin Theroux, it has immaculate writing and directing, and the technical aspects are also very good. Aside from a couple of flaws, Maniac is an incredible show with well thought-out themes delivered brilliantly.

Rating: 9/10



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