It’s too soon to say whether Maniac will become my latest Netflix obsession à la Stranger Things or Dark, or if it’ll end up feeling more like The OA (i.e., full of intriguing promise but ultimately, a little underwhelming), but I’m enjoying the experience so far after three episodes. I’m particularly struck by the series’ skewed aesthetic, which feels like Blade Runner by way of Terry Gilliam.
I love all of the retro PCs that pop up everywhere, which lends the series’ setting a certain timelessness, while some of the sets — like Owen’s parents’ house — remind me of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles architecture. However, the overriding sense is one of Brazil-ish absurdism.
From the constant presence of advertising (such as AdBuddies, or people who read ads to you if you can’t pay for stuff with money, which is like a nightmarish real world version of internet advertising) to the opulence of Owen’s family to the ominous bureaucracy of Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech (the drug firm whose experiments serve as the backdrop for our main character’s surreal adventures) — it all has a distinct whiff of Terry Gilliam about it. And I dig it.
I realize I’m only three episodes in, so I assume plenty of twists, turns, and surreal rabbit trails are waiting for me, but so far, Maniac’s plot has held my interest. Much of this has to do with Jonah Hill. If you only know him from raunchy films like Superbad and Knocked Up, then Hill’s performance as a (potentially) schizophrenic man might be eye-opening. There have been several scenes so far where his harrowed, sadsack performance — such as when he tries to express affection to his narcissistic brother’s fiancée — proved quite affecting. Meanwhile, Emma Stone’s character initially comes off a bit shallow, but some revelations in the second and third episodes make her, if not sympathetic, then a bit more understandable.
I was a bit hesitant to watch Maniac for some reason. But after reading some random comments on Facebook, I started watching the first episode late one night. Which probably wasn’t too smart, because if I hadn’t had to get up early the next morning to get kids ready for school, I might easily have binged two or three more episodes.