‘Maniac’ a weird ride that takes too long


Owen and Annie in the testing chamber. Photo credit: imdb.com

“Maniac” is a new show from Netflix that would have been better off as a two and a half hour movie. It has an interesting structure and setting, but lacks good pacing and relies too much on the mystery of its story.

Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone) are two voluntary test subjects in a pharmaceutical trial. They, along with a small group of other subjects, are observed as they take a series of drugs that make them experience fantasies. These fantasies are called reflections and each one brings them one step closer to overcoming their mental trauma. It’s an interesting concept, but the show spends more time revealing how weird it is instead of letting the characters get where they need to go.

The biggest problem with the reflections is that each one gets about the same amount of time to get through. It’s great when one of them hits their mark. It’s a chore when one of them doesn’t. The good side is that the writing can pick up some of the slack left by an uninteresting premise. Watching Owen and Annie rescue a lemur from a fur shop is fun. Watching them at a high society party isn’t.

Emma Stone’s performance was great. At first, her character seems too unlikable to care about, but her arc changes that. As Annie develops, the nuances of Stone’s performance bring out the subtle changes in the character. By the end of the show, Annie goes through some major changes and it makes her character a highlight overall.

Jonah Hill, on the other hand, is decent. Hill is good when he plays a character that’s supposed to be funny. His performances during the more dramatic scenes are stilted and dry. He always has the same expression on his face, like he doesn’t know where he is and is always bummed out about something. Even by the end of the show, Owen doesn’t feel like a character that has gone through major development.

Justin Theroux’s character, Dr. Mantleray, is also worth mentioning. The technology used in the trials was his invention and it seems like he needs the treatment more than anyone in the show. Mantleray’s complicated relationship with his mother is the source of a lot of humor and it plays a big part in the overall story.

Another highlight of the show is the weird, dystopian version of the world that “Maniac” presents. People can earn extra money by watching ads, but it involves sending an actual person with pamphlets to show them to you. You can also hire people to pretend to be your friend while you go out. There’s a lot of small touches that went into painting this strange version of reality and it makes for a really interesting setting. It makes me wish that the writers told a different story set in this world, instead of the one told in the show.

“Maniac” is an interesting show with characters that make the weirder parts of it easier to digest. There’s plenty of moments that seem shoehorned in for the sole purpose of making things confusing and wacky. It has a good story at its core, but it takes way too long to tell it. Overall, it’s worth watching if you have the time, but all the narrative fat that needs to be trimmed leaves this show at three stars.

Final Score: 3/5 Stars

Ulises Duenas can be reached at [email protected] or @OrionUlisesD on Twitter.