- Netflix’s “Maniac” is not for everyone. It is confusing and gets lost in its complex premise.
- The sci-fi series doesn’t do enough to give viewers a sense of who the characters are and what kind of world they live in.
- Justin Theroux is very funny, but that’s about the only good thing, along with its excellent visuals thanks to director Cary Joji Fukanaga.
- Sally Field, an American treasure, is grossly underused in her role.
Netflix’s “Maniac” is not for everyone. Especially me. I paused “Maniac” in confusion a lot while I was watching it. (Netflix made all 10 episodes of the limited series available for the press.)
But no moment made me pause and wonder what the heck I was watching more than when I saw Justin Theroux have virtual-reality sex with an animated fairy while having a silver, animated, tall head of hair. It came out of nowhere, I was watching it at work, and I didn’t return to the episode for the rest of the day. I don’t have anything against fairies, or Justin Theroux doing steamy moments on screen, but it was a character introduction that came out of nowhere, and was truly staggering.
Netflix’s “Maniac,” one of its most-talked about series of the year, dropped on Friday.
Written and created by Patrick Somerville, “Maniac,” inspired by a Norwegian series, is set in a dystopian version of New York City and follows two young adults who participate in a drug trial. Honestly, I think that’s what the plot is, but there are also many layers and mini-stories within the drug trial that include an elf, some kind of Prohibition Era thing, and horrific accents. The show’s all-star cast includes Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux (the show’s saving grace, but at what cost?), and a grossly underused Sally Field.
The hype for the series starts with Cary Joji Fukanaga, the visionary director behind the first season of “True Detective.” (Don’t worry, he had nothing to do with the bad second season.)
“Maniac” is visually bright and exciting, and quite different from the gorgeous Louisiana marshes Fukanaga shot in “True Detective” back in 2014. But it’s heavily influenced by “Blade Runner,” which is getting tired at this point, especially after Netflix’s other sci-fi series, “Altered Carbon,” earlier this year.
“Maniac’s” complex story is hard to follow, with empty lead characters played with much enthusiasm by Stone and Hill.
But the biggest problem with “Maniac” is its lack of world-building. That Theroux fairy sex moment could have worked, but by the time I got to it, the show hadn’t earned it. Even a few episodes into the 10-episode limited series, I still had no idea what this would was or how it functioned. The world feels like an afterthought to the driving concept, which is telling short stories through the mind during a drug test. With such a weak sense of place and individual characters, the show never really works. It never transcends its basic conceit.
Some people may like “Maniac,” so I recommend giving it an episode or two. But if you don’t like it immediately, feel free to turn it off.
“Maniac,” a limited series, is available on Netflix Friday.
You can watch the trailer below:
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