Let us never speak of this again.
Main Cast: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill
Creator: Patrick Somerville
I wanted to like Maniac, I really did. Emma Stone. Jonah Hill. Justin Theroux. Sally Field! All doing some sort of drug trial that goes awry, how could I not like it? I was so determined that I sat through all ten episodes before I finally admitted the truth. Maniac is not good. Not at all. And I’m sad.
So yes, the basic premise. Jonah Hill and Emma Roberts star as two people looking for happiness via a pharmaceutical trial. Hill plays Owen, who joins the study to try and escape his abject misery. He’s depressed, he may be schizophrenic, his family is horrible, and he lost his job. Stone plays Annie, who is already addicted to one of the medications being tested. She can’t get more from her source, so she blackmails her way into the trial. Neither one of them should be there, not if it was an ethical trial. But they are, and it isn’t, and things are not going to go as planned. Insert a rogue computer and you have lots of potential for mayhem.
I can’t even count the ways Maniac goes off the rails. From word one it’s confusing. At the beginning it’s confusing in sort of a good way, like everything will come together if we just stick with it. But it doesn’t, and we shouldn’t. We also have the issue of Owen as a character. He is so morose that he’s barely mobile. He has only one facial expression, no affect, and essentially no personality. It’s really hard to invest in a character that makes zero effort, at any time, to be anything other than obstinately boring and self-destructive. Oh, and he loves to be a victim, which doesn’t help AT ALL.
What next? How about the entire behind the scenes plot involving the people running this mess of a study? They’re caricatures, and incomplete ones at that. Justin Theroux plays the exiled brainchild behind the study who’s brought back when there are problems, but he’s a shell of a character. Vapid and underdeveloped, we get a garbled explanation of his three phased attempt to “fix” unhappiness that makes no sense coupled with some sort of creepy overlaid Mommy fixation persona that once again…makes no sense. His sidekicks don’t even merit a mention.
Now Emma Stone is magical, that is something I will not deny. I mean as an actress in general, not in this POS. She does what she can and Annie is by far the most interesting and developed character in the series, but Stone is only one woman and she can’t save this disaster. She does get a little help from Julia Garner (who you’ll recognize as Ruth Langmore from Ozark) playing Annie’s sister, but it isn’t enough. Their story is the only consistently engaging part of the entire series, and there is far too little of it to make up for the rest. I can’t even start with Sally Field. She’s just thrown away and by the time she shows up the show has already started to be infuriating.
My biggest issue is that there is no underlying reason for Maniac to be a confusing mess. I say this as someone who has made it through, intact and without regrets, two seasons of Legion– possibly the most confusing series in the history of television. Maniac‘s story is simple and if they had stuck to the scientists trying to eliminate unhappiness and forgone all the stupid sub-stories and gimmicks it might have gone somewhere. Even if they had kept Owen as a human Eeyore it might have worked. But too much time is spent on elaborate and unnecessary set pieces and side tracking that amount to nothing more than meaningless pictures flashing across the screen. The end is hokey and stupid and the entire exercise feels like a waste of time, talent, and money. Every single one of these actors, from Stone and Hill to the smallest of cameo players, deserves better material than they are given in Maniac. Do yourself a favor and skip this one, it’s a Netflix fail. One star each for Stone and Garner.
You can usually find Sue watching dysfunctional family indie dramas in order to make her own household seem normal. She is the Editorial Manager at Silver Beacon Marketing and an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady.