Netflix Original “Maniac”: Visually Appealing, Poorly Written

Netflix’s new 10-part mini-series “Maniac” leaves viewers confused, yet visually pleased.

The sci-fi drama is directed by Cary Fukunaga of “True Detective” fame, and stars Emma Stone (Annie) and Jonah Hill  (Owen) as they undergo a mysterious pharmaceutical trial claiming to, “solve problems permanently.”

Owen Milgrim is a depressed New Yorker recovering from visions, a mental breakdown and a scandal involving his wealthy family. Annie Lindbergh is a traumatized addict overcoming a recurring memory flashbacks involving her sister.

Both characters have a reason for taking part in the trial; Annie wants to escape her past, whereas Owen wants to make a new life for himself.

Annie and Owen eventually connect at the clinical trial for a new drug promising to bring happiness. But when the computer overseeing the experiments starts taking on human qualities—feeling grief and depression, for example—Owen and Annie suddenly experience shared, subconscious fantasies.

It’s at this point that “Maniac” becomes disorienting in the form of alternative realities or “fantasies.” In one fantasy, Owen and Annie imagine themselves as a working-class 80’s couple trying to rescue a lemur. In another, they are invited to a 20th-century con artist party where they hope to steal an obscure artifact during a séance.

These fantasies are anything but enchanting, which is disappointing because the look and feel of Maniac is outstanding.

Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are a strange combination, to say the least. Hill, best known for his comedic roles, seems dry and uncomfortable taking on a serious character. On the other hand, Stone, best known for dramatic rules like “La La Land,” is practically built for this role. Though I hoped to see Jonah Hill and Emma Stone as a great duo, they were unable to rekindle the chemistry they had in 2007’s “Superbad.”

Though visually appealing, the story was far-fetched and off-putting. Great in concept, poorly executed. It’s unfortunate that the audience leaves “Maniac” thinking that the budget was spent solely on advanced cinematography, while neglecting a basic plot.

So, yes, “Maniac” looks great, but the storyline is miserable. It’s a show that wants you to think it has all sorts of ideas: the effect of mental illness, false perceptions of addiction, the control of technology and corporatization on our lives, etc. However, “Maniac” doesn’t reveal a single truth or idea that hasn’t already been kicked around—with more honesty and heart—in movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

Story by: Cassidy Jasperson
Photo by: