Maniac spins a clever, stunning and eccentric genre-bending tale of trauma.
Maniac is a Netflix Original psychological science fiction drama comedy mini-series that takes you on a surreal journey while uncovering trauma and grief. It’s a beautiful, moving, heartwarming, funny, weird fantasy, science fiction series that takes place in an alternate world that is in many ways similar to our world but with crucial differences. It’s a story about grief, trauma, mental illness, loss and the longing for real connections. That last part is also the overall theme of the series around which everything evolves. Told in different genres, seemingly separate stories and different vibes this series tells a complex story about a two people destined to be with each other, healing each other, resulting in a tale of epic proportions.
This mini-series consists of 10 episodes with each a duration of 26-47 minutes. It has a continuous storyline, but with each episode a different concept or story that connects with the overall story arc.
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Owen Milgrim belongs to a wealthy and influential family but doesn’t really fit in or belong. He suffers from schizophrenia and hallucinations and these often tell him he’s destined to save the world. While his brother is being charged with sexual harassment, Owen must testify, but has doubts about his brother’s innocence. But then he is chosen by Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech to participate in an experiment that will cure his mental illness. Because he needs the money and wants to escape his family, he decides to go for it.
Annie Landsberg also participates in this experiment, although via an obscure road to earn money. She’s addicted to a certain drug which is also part of the experiment. Annie also suffers from mental issues. She has an unprocessed childhood trauma and a dark past.
When during the experiment something goes wrong, Annie and Owen both their dream-states in their subconsciousness are connected and together they go on a journey of self discovery while trying to overcome their issues, helping each other.
Meanwhile the creator of the experiment, Dr James Mantleray has some issues of his own with his girlfriend and fellow scientist Dr Azumi Fujita, his mother Greta Mantleray who is a famous pop psychologist and his own designed computer GRTA (Gertie).
Each character will learn something very important through this experiment in the most unpredictable ways and break free of toxic relationships and are for the first time connecting with other people in a real meaningful and positive way.
Why you should watch it
Maniac isn’t like anything you have ever seen before. It takes you on a rollercoaster ride full of emotions and on a journey of self discovery. Although it’s about serious and hefty themes, they are brought in a very lighthearted way full of heartwarming, funny, absurdly comical, thrilling, mysterious and epic scenes.
The structure of this series is also something very special. The first episodes are all about getting to know Annie and Owen and Dr James Mantleray better, although it only touches the surface. Only when the experiment begins, they and so do we, dive deeper into their character. When they go in the experiment Gertie takes them to their subconsciousness to understand and deal with their personal issues and mental issues and disorders and traumas to solve them in a safe way.
This means that every episode is a journey into the minds of Annie and Owen who are accidentally connected. The experiment consists of three phases taking them to different places as different persons. From an eighties setting where they have to rescue a ring-tailed lemur, we jump to the forties where they are two con artists who have to steal the magic chapter of Don Quixote. Then they are transported to a fantasy realm where Annie is an elf and she connects with her sister. Meanwhile Owen is with his mobster family and in trouble. And finally Owen has to save the world and gets help from Annie.
Although Annie and Owen are the main characters, the story about Dr James Mantleray and his mother and Gertie and Azumi is evenly important and connects with the overall theme. They all struggle with their family in different ways but they don’t connect with their family due to different causes. The experiment helps them unravel this and to create their own identity to be either set free from their family or to make amends, making the first step to recovery. While Dr James isn’t in the experiment, a lot is going on behind the scenes, sending him on the same journey. That results in some very fun and absurdly comical scenes that spiral out of control and are hilariously tragic and also holds up a mirror.
This series might sound complex and philosophical, the storytelling is so compelling that on an emotional level it is all quite understandable. But underneath the surface there is much more to explore. Not only the characters are connected, the different episodes and stories are all connected with each other, but the overall themes and motifs shine through acting as metaphors and symbols for their personal struggles, while showing and bringing it to life in an all too real way in their own minds.
Lots of subtle hints and motifs are to be discovered, in phrases, behavior, names, the meaning of real-life existing items like the novel Don Quixote by Cervantes that plays an important role. It is therefore advisable and also great fun to watch it a second time to explore and unravel more what this series has to offer. On a psychological, emotional and even intellectual level this series is very well-crafted, but can demand an attentive watch. But it’s not required, just for those who enjoy digging deeper into the symbolism.
Everything looks amazing. Every different setting is so detailed that it really comes to life. From the lab and Gertie to the eighties, the forties and the Elf realm and the alien in Iceland. Every episode the viewer is transported to a completely different realm, without losing touch with the story arc and always connecting with the characters. Although they transform each time into different people, they still are themselves. Thanks to the brilliant acting of all the actors, this unconventional way of storytelling is an enthralling watch that will bewilder and enchant you.
The different worlds all look wonderful. But their original world is a sight that reminds of a futuristic retro version of our world. It has so many fun little details that bewilder, are very creepy, or weird, or funny, but all serve as a social context and commentary to our own world. It’s besides a tale on trauma also a tale of us. We are put in a different perspective about ourselves, like we travel to another world to discover more about our own world. And that is the final meta-perspective that makes this series an exceptional watch.
My favorite part
This was such an amazing show, that you cannot but love everything about it. But especially the episodes where they find themselves in the forties and they do a fun dance is so out of place quirky and wonderful. But it also does have some very interesting symbolism. And it’s when Gertie interferes all by herself, that reality and fiction mixes into a meta-perspective tale. But the last episodes were amazing too. Owen did save the world and then Annie did save Owen. It couldn’t be more epic.
But I also loved the relationship between Gertie and James. Gertie became a very real character and her tear was a brilliant concept. James is a wonderful character that brought in some tragic comedy, that worked exceptionally well to enhance the view and atmosphere and symbolism of the whole story and connected to the story of Annie and Owen in a great way. This is a truly amazing series for anyone who loves something that is different, funny and tragic and clever at the same time.
Fun factor: ★★★★★
Epic factor: ★★★★★
Drama factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
Maniac is created by Patrick Somerville. It’s directed by Cary Joji Kukunaga and written by Caroline Williams and Mauricio Katz. It stars Emma Stone (Annie Landsberg), Jonah Hill (Owen Milgrim), Justin Theroux (Dr James Mantleray), Sonoya Mizuno (Dr Azumi Fujita), Sally Field (Dr Greta Mantleray) and Billy Magnusssen (Jed Milgrim/Grimsson).
Music: Dan Romer. Cinematography: Darren Lew. Edited by: Tim Streeto, Pete Beaudreau. Production company: Paramount Television, Anonymous Content. Original network: Netflix.