Image Credit: Netflix. Description: Jonah Hill and Emma Stone in MANIAC
Jonah Hill and Emma Stone have come a long way since they starred together in Superbad. The new Netflix Original series MANIAC is a show with a special type of humor that’s both ridiculous and satirical. In the very first minute the narrator opens with the idea that the Big Bang was really “an infinite cosmic orgy of matter and energy, rubbing, bumping and grinding together.” It really sets the tone for an erotic space journey but instead enters into a mildly futuristic version of New York City. I would ballpark the timeline as something like twenty to forty years ahead based on the commonly used digital currency and Wall-E-inspired sanitation robots.
The director Cary Fukunaga, Emmy award winner for True Detective, throws in eccentric and often depressing glimpses into our near future. Trump’s America is an evident catalyst as a Russian tour guide leads a group of old white people wearing red hats past the “Statue of Extra Liberty” which makes me wonder if that is something Trump has actually proposed. This Lady Liberty is some warrior angel in a full get up of armour, grandiose wings and brandishing a sword. New jobs in this mild dystopia include AdBuddies, who literally follow people around telling them ads, Proxy Friends who are friends you hire, and mail order families. Everything about this society is aimed to reduce loneliness which is exploited by our cripplingly socially awkward two main characters: Annie Landsberg (played by Emma Stone) and Owen Milgrim (played by Jonah Hill).
The plot centres around the theme of mental illness and addresses key issues in how it’s discussed. Owen Milgrim is a paranoid schizophrenic with a messiah complex which is a type of schizophrenia where one feels like they are the saviour of their world. His inner voice, a vision of his brother Jed (Billy Magnussen), compels Owen to “find the pattern” in the universe which guides him to Annie. Annie’s illness is something that doesn’t become so apparent until the second episode when we see her abusing drugs and blackmailing her way into a pharmaceutical drug experiment to get her fix. She suffers from depression after the trauma of surviving the car accident the killed her sister Ellie (Julia Garner).
The pharmaceutical trial they enter is designed to cure their mental illness and so the characters explore their subconscious through various reincarnations of themselves. This is where Hill and Stone really shine in their amazing range of emotional talent and character portrayal. I’d never imagine Hill pulling off a New York mobster fully equipped with a grill and Post Malone french braids or Stone as an elf archer in Middle-earth, but they really prove to be flexible to any role.
In between all the heaviness of addressing trauma, abuse, addiction, suicide, depression, and sexual assault, is an overblown cringe fest that’s designed to make you uncomfortable. The most disturbing scene I’ve witnessed put to screen is Justin Theroux as some mystical tentacle man having sex with a virtual fairy goddess using VR equipment rigged to a mechanical fleshlight. Coming in a close second is Billy Magnussen getting shotgun blasted in half at the waist and having all his intestines spill out in a tub.
This show is definitely not for the squeamish but its premise and script are certainly unique. It has me wonder about the ways I process trauma and how the medical field treats mental illness which has plenty of room for improvement. By the end, the creators try to leave it on a light note with affirmations that truth will set you free and love conquers all.