by: William Burleigh ’19 A&E Staff
A new Netflix limited series premiered last weekend, on Sept. 21: Maniac, a surrealistic science fiction show starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill.
Maniac, a dark comedy set in a futuristic world, tells the story of Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone), two strangers who are drawn into the late stages of a mysterious pharmaceutical drug trial using revolutionary pills created by Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux). The two meet and form a relationship at Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech (NPB), where they participate in a radical new kind of psychological treatment. Owen and Annie are assured that, following their three-day trial, all of their problems will be solved forever but not everything is as it seems.
Both characters suffer from mental health issues. Owen, the fifth son of a wealthy New York family, has struggled his whole life with schizophrenia. He hallucinates an imaginary mentor who appears to him at random moments, ominously assuring him that he is the chosen one meant to save the world. He joins the trial at NPB to confront his inner demons and escape his oppressive family.
Annie suffers from depression and abandonment issues stemming from a tumultuous relationship with her mother. She deals with this, along with her regret over a tragic accident involving her sister, by abusing a painkiller pill that NPB created, the “A” pill. Annie’s desire to overcome her addiction and obtain emotional catharsis is what leads to her involvement in the drug trial.
During their treatments, Annie and Owen experience multiple dream-like distortions of reality that place them in alternate universes, with bodies and lives different from their own.
These vignette-like illusions include adventures involving a married couple on Long Island, con-artist gangsters in a noir mafia tale, and elves in a Lord of the Rings-like fantasy realm. These various genre changes and character twists only add to the mysterious, surreal atmosphere that keeps the viewer wondering as to what is real and what is imagined throughout the course of the series.
In addition to a talented cast and engaging story, Maniac boasts a skilled director behind the camera: Cary Joji Fukunaga, whose diverse résumé includes an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (2011) and Netflix war film Beast of No Nation (2015).
Fukunaga is most well-known for his fantastic work on the HBO detective drama True Detective. Fukunaga served as director and executive producer for the critically-acclaimed first season, earning an Emmy award for his direction.
His biggest project yet is still to come. Just recently, on Sept. 20, Fukunaga was announced as the director of the next James Bond film, the 25th entry in the 007 series. This currently untitled Bond film, Daniel Craig’s final outing as the superspy, will go into production next year and is expected to be released on February 14, 2020.
With so many experienced professionals both on and off screen, it is no wonder Maniac is as engaging, immersive, and worth watching as it is. All 10 episodes of Maniac are currently available to be streamed on Netflix.