The brand new Netflix Original series Maniac, came out a couple of days ago and as I’ve spent a large portion of those days indoor and horribly hungover, I managed to get through the entire series.
The infallible Emma Stone and always entertaining Jonah Hill play Annie Landsberg and Owen Milgrim, two lost souls who are barely able to exist as functional adults in the real world (I think a lot of us 20 somethings will relate…)
The first couple of episodes introduce the audience to the pair as their failings as members of society are laid bare as well as their unstable mental health. For different reasons, Annie and Owen find themselves entering into a clinical trial which promises to change the patients lives forever.
Over the course of the next eight episodes, the world is turned upside down and shaken around thoroughly. Annie takes on the form of a half-elf / half-human drunkard for an entire episode while Owen is transformed into the son of a drill wielding criminal for another.
The supporting cast are also thrown into their own cascading version of reality as the supercomputer which is used as part of the clinical trial, begins to act in ways which we all know any supercomputer tends to, when thrown into the mix.
Maniac is a real treat for film and TV geeks as there are so many influences and subtle nods to others who have tread upon similar ground in the past.
There is a literal reference to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, as patient’s who don’t survive the trial are said to ‘McMurphy’ the name of the main character in the 1975 film featuring Jack Nicolson.
There is also a healthy dose of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich when it comes to exploring trauma, the power of the unconscious and the surreal nature of the minds ‘Blind Spots’.
The real world that the characters live in, is a slightly brighter version the one created by Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Neon adverts are everywhere, promising a better life off world, away from the existence the characters already have.
The similarity to Stanley Kubrics 2001 a Space Odyssey is clearly apparent when looking at the characterisation of the artificial intelligence inside the supercomputer narrated by the outstanding Sally Field.
There is also a huge amount of Wes Anderson here.
The movement of the camera alone would make you think you’re watching an Anderson flick while the quirky characters, humour, death, colours and absurdity of it all, furthers the similarities.
Finally, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise seems to have left an impression on the makers of Maniac as the towering and intimidating architecture of the pharmaceutical giant’s headquarters are extremely close to the tower block which features in the 2015 art house film.
But all of that does not mean that Maniac is unoriginal.
The series brought its own humor to themes which have been explored for years, while also offering a plethora of well-developed and sympathetic characters which are fantastically played.
There are genuinely funny moments in every episode which are delivered to perfection by Stone and Hill who clearly had a huge amount of fun creating this series, however, the moments of impact are genuine and heartfelt, making this one of the best original series Netflix has produced.