I was thinking the other day, as I was watching The Last Jedi for the second or third time in full, about world building. Some people love a world. I feel like a lot of Game of Thrones fans loved that show because it created a fantasy world. There were lands and lore and all that stuff. That’s why people liked it, right? It could have been the acting or storytelling or the roles for women. I’m not a world-building guy. I need story and character and dialogue. I need a show that would be good even without the hook of sci-fi and fantasy. As such, it took me a little while before I finally gave Netflix’s Maniac a shot. I wish I had jumped on it sooner.
Maniac was basically the brainchild of Cary Fukanaga. You know him from…well, mostly for being difficult and jumping off a lot of projects. From what I’ve heard he didn’t make Maniac an easy experience for people either, including Netflix. There isn’t going to be a second season, but on the other hand I don’t think it was designed to. It’s basically a miniseries, designed to be contained. Granted, that was also true of 13 Reasons Why, and somehow Netflix turned that into three seasons. Oh, also that’s another good reason to recommend this for binging purposes. You can knock it out in one weekend. You probably will, too. It’s that gripping.
Maniac takes place in one of those sort-of futures. It’s not fantastical, but different enough to not be the real world, like Rian Johnson’s film Looper (and not like his film The Lasy Jedi). Jonah Hill and Emma Stone star as two mentally ill people who end up as part of a drug testing experiment. Neither is there for the right reasons. Hill is schizophrenic and feels like he has a higher purpose in the world. Stone just wants to score drugs. Needless to say, they end up on a fantastical, bizarre hallucinatory journey that also features an AI run amok due to her depression.
So yeah, this is a weird show. However, it’s not weird for the sake of weird. I love the way it looks. Fukanaga can direct. The cast is stellar. In addition to Hill and Stone, Justin Theroux and Sally Field have big roles. It can be funny, and it can be heartfelt, but it’s always being weird either way. I churned through five episodes in one sitting before I ran out of time, and I was bummed I couldn’t just finish the series right then and there. Eventually, I did, and it was worth the journey. Whether you like fantastical worlds or sci-fi stories or not, Maniac is more than just a bizarre future. It’s a story built on emotions that have been at the core of humanity for millennia.