While it’s possible to review Maniac without revealing too much, commenting on any plot details frankly feels like it would detract from the viewing experience. So, I’ll be avoiding all spoilers and if you want to truly enjoy this series, watch it like I did, with no background information.
From the acclaimed director of Beasts of No Nation and True Detective Season 1, comes a limited series chock-full of insanity, subtext, satire and pure entertainment. Simply put, Netflix’s new hit is a case study in masterful storytelling. It has an ambitious narrative so complex and multilayered it requires the most skilled of artists to pull it off. The result is as bold as it is experimental, and as visually stunning as television gets with a meticulously constructed and affecting score, stylish dialogue, three-dimensional characters and enough symbolism to fill a Bible. It’s so well put together, you’ll find the series goes as far as to skilfully use your confusion to make the experience more entertaining.
Maniac was adapted from its original Norwegian source material by the novelist Patrick Somerville, who previously worked on The Leftovers with fellow alum Justin Theroux. Somerville was behind such stellar episodes as “Off-Ramp” and “A Most Powerful Adversary,” and fans of The Leftovers will find Maniac shares the same ambition and creative genius. It’s a project where everyone is at the top of their game, from the writers, the director and the actors to the sound technicians, the make-up artists and the set designers – exploiting every tool filmmaking has to offer to deliver the most engaging viewing experience. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga brings the virtuoso talent we’ve become accustomed to from him: mind-bending dream sequences, ingenious visual cues, and a creative use of colour. It takes a lot to visually match the high standards of these teleplays and Fukunaga’s success makes us all excited for when he takes the helm of the upcoming James Bond film.
The performances are as expected: extraordinary actors flexing their extraordinary gifts. Jonah Hill (Superbad, Moneyball, The Wolf of Wall Street) plays withdrawn and anxious with as much skill as he plays aggressive and camp. Emma Stone (Easy A, Birdman, La La Land) is expressive and dynamic, portraying trauma well with a deft and measured hand. Justin Theroux (Your Highness, Mulholland Drive) and Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina, Crazy Rich Asians, Annihilation) round out the principal cast and they bring a great deal of authenticity to a subject matter that is often alien and absurd.
In the wake of Netflix receiving the most nominations at the 70th Primetime Emmys and tying with ratings juggernaut HBO in wins, Maniac shows the streaming service is just as interested in artistic excellence as it is interested in commercial success. This may be the recency bias talking but Maniac is a sensation, one that isn’t easy to watch but is deeply satisfying if you take your time with it. The Fukunaga-Somerville lovechild strikes this reviewer as the kind of high-risk, high-reward project that will inspire many future artists in the same way as the films of Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese.
Maniac premiered Friday 21st September 2018 on Netflix. All episodes are available online.