In the future-tense world of Maniac there are robotised pooper-scoopers cleaning pavements, and goods and services become cheaper if you want a human ‘ad-buddy’ to follow you reciting ads until you are blue in the face.
You can sign up for fake friends to hang out with, not just online versions. New York even has a “Statue of Extra Liberty” to hint at regime change.
Yet there are also 1980s-style computers with black and green screens in a series where even the title font is a nod to IBM.
At the centre of this trippy series from director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) is Neberdine Pharmaceutical & Biotech, which is conducting clinical tests on human guinea pigs to eradicate unnecessary and inefficient forms of human pain…
A ‘voice of god’ narrator reminds us that “All souls are on a quest to connect” but “Our minds have no awareness of this quest.”
Episode one of this bold drama will introduce us to Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill), one of the trial patients, who is already dealing with his own form of schizophrenia. Owen keeps imagining his brother appears to him with missions to save the world. No matter how hard he tries to fight off the delusion, it keeps dragging him down.
In the second episode Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) tries to get onto the trials as a quick way of making money, to travel to visit her sister (Julia Garner).
When the two meet as part of the trial it isn’t the instant connection we were hoping for, and each will find their own escape to deal with the situation at hand. Lines between actual and metaphysical are blurred for the viewer in a show that is part Black Mirror, part Mr. Robot. You could probably throw in Legion, The OA and Lost for good measure.
Patrick Somerville pens the screenplay of this perplexing ride, based on a Norwegian series by Hakon Bast Mossige and Espen PA Lervaag. In the hands of Cary Joji Fukunaga it arrives as its own lively beast, with solid performances by Emma Stone and a mumble-core Jonah Hill. Others to feature will include Justin Theroux, Gabriel Byrne and Sally Field.
This is a work that won’t be to everybody’s liking, but fits the Netflix-binge model well. The bursts of originality are so striking, both as visuals and high-concept, it demands the audience will stay connected, if not necessarily your soul.
Maniac is now screening on Netflix.