Mania for "Maniac" (Spoiler-Free Review)
The newest Netflix binger, “Maniac”, a neon-colored deconstruction of the human psyche premiered on September 21, 2018. Led by the “Superbad” alumnus duo of Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, this limited series largely intrigued audiences pre-release. From the star-studded foremosts to the vague, yet compelling, “Black Mirror”-esque concept, the show was eagerly, yet hesitantly, anticipated. Many thought, given the A-list ensemble and obscure synopsis, “Maniac” had all the elements of either being brilliant, or a total bomb.
“Maniac” doesn’t slam you with just how profound it is in the first couple of episodes, which makes it all the more profound. There are dollops of cleverness towards the start, and witty comments about capitalism in 2018. “Ad-Buddies” the show’s primary form of credit, which are people who follow you around and read ads off to you, along with a commentary on the intimacy of Uber, is part of what makes this show so great. This is a funny little poke, but it is squashed in comparison to just how genius the evolution of the show rolls out.
“Maniac” trusts the audience in a way that’s hard to find with other shows. The characters meet a passerby with a squeaky voice, then in a dream, we hear the voice reflected back from a dragonfly. The characters never mention the fact that the voice belonged to the character we previously saw (for less than two seconds), and carries on. The entire masterfulness of “Maniac” is that it never points out its own intelligence, because it doesn’t need to. As you watch the characters dream, the dream slowly starts to unravel into reality, and it’s remarkable how it feels exactly like really waking up from a dream. This show has a complete understanding of the human mind, and uses it to it’s astute advantage.
“Maniac” holds so much excellency in its cold, daring fist, all of which is amazingly consistent in terms of theme, tone, and message. This is thanks to calculated, careful direction. The visuals in particular are marvelous. It uses neon with the delicacy of an architect, supporting the story’s theme through subtle soars and ebbs. Also, it has the writing that’s so subtly exceptional, you have to watch it with subtitles on to fully appreciate just how superb it is. All of these elements blend into a crisp, distinct style, (evidently inspired by films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Fight Club”, etc. though none of it is distracting, blatant homage) which the show as a whole really builds its foundation upon.
As to be expected, the acting is remarkable. Emma Stone’s performance takes a wild step outside of her comfort zone, but not distractingly so. Of course, there’s a major star-making role from Jonah Hill. It’s one thing for a comedic actor to bring surprising heft to a dramatic role, it’s another thing to make audiences completely forget he was famously comedic in the first place. His character is reserved, yet from the heart, and overall compellingly real. Both of these actors have probably saved some shelf space for their inevitable Emmy’s already, but there’s another actor who should consider the same rearrangements: Dr. Fujita.
“Dr. Fujita” is played by Sonoya Mizuno, who you probably know as the robot who danced in “Ex Machina”, who didn’t say anything, or one of the girls who danced in “La La Land”, but barely said anything, or one of the ensemble dancers in “Beauty and the Beast”, who (of course) said nothing. In “Maniac”, Mizuno deserves a standing ovation, no high kicks or twirls required. Her performance is quietly brilliant, smartly withdrawn, and thoroughly consistent. She has an on-screen presence that adds to the show’s atmosphere endlessly, carrying a perfect understanding of her character, and the world around her.
Overall, if you decide not to watch “Maniac”, you’re choosing to not embark on an experience. The messages of mental health and therapy are simple genius, well-rounded and thought provoking. All of which is supported through spectacular acting, performed by some of the greatest currently working actors, who give some of their best performances of their careers thus far. With such a distinctly consistent style and message, “Maniac” is a trip into the human mind that won’t be soon forgotten.