When a t.v. show promises to sort out social weirdness and dysfunctional families, I usually roll my eyes and quickly scroll past. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Maniac, however, does not promise anything to the viewer except sheer entertainment. That may be the very reason why it is a therapeutic watch. There is no hard-sell, no repetition of the director’s vision, and no self-awareness of the entire production. What you have are a pair of Hollywood’s finest comedians, Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, delivering tragi-comedic performances with subtlety.
What Netflix’s latest quirky comedy offers is artificial intelligence (AI), 80’s-era PCs, retro trenchcoats, data centers painted in cotton-candy pink, pop psychology, subterranean research labs, and a zany take on friendship. There is even a fun homage to Japan’s dominance in the realm of research and development.
Maniac is part Odyssey, part Back to the Future, where the leads struggle to conform to society’s expectations of them. That is until they finally enroll in a mysterious clinical drug trial. Owen and Annie break past the barriers of their nature, their nurturing, social conditioning, and even past the popular ‘blame the parents’ trope to find contentment. Even the supporting characters in Maniac also struggle to gain mental and emotional clarity, often with hilarious side-effects.
Mental health, modern therapy, and various self-help theories are all given plenty of airtime and space in the script. Each protagonist, independently, steps towards conquering their greatest fears. Maniac explores human relationships, in all forms, and how maybe all we need is someone who looks out for us – as true friends do. It will make you laugh, and make you cry. Most importantly, it will compel you to give yourself a break.