Netflix’s Maniac is the psychological labyrinth we’ve been waiting for

Imagine being able to pack years’ worth of therapy into three dream-like states induced by an A, B and C pill. Now imagine all of that taking place in a Cary Fukunaga (from True Detective fame) parallel universe. Intrigued yet? Maniac was released on 21 September and it’s completely binge-worthy.

Skipping therapy, you say…?

Without getting too serious about the origins or theory behind therapy, we do know that modern methods of therapy were developed from the teachings of Jung (which in turn were built on the teachings of Freud). It is a process meant to address the underlying source of your mental illness, whether triggered by trauma or a genetic disposition, to address your current behaviour and thereafter confront the source and behaviour in a way that attempts to relieve you from these troubling issues.

Without giving too much of the series away, Maniac inserts its subjects into a pharmaceutical trial that puts them in situations designed to help them explore these three stages.

To what end, you may ask? Well, the result, according to the doctors in the experiment, is ultimate joy. Still not sure what the series is about? No stress, Maniac is a joyride through the bizarre, and the less you know, the better.

It’s weird as hell

First off, I am not even sure which year the story is set. If I had to guess, I would say it is a bizarre look into a parallel universe or reality set in the 80’s, with slightly more advance tech (keep an eye out for the small sanitation robots).

I mentioned that they are placed into weird situations, designed to serve as different forms of therapeutic confrontations. You can expect to journey into a séance, a Lord of the Rings-like setup and what looks to be a classic cold war spy film, if you looked past the aliens. The entire experiment is run by an Artificial Intelligence system called GRTA.

Throughout the entire show, I exclaimed with joy as many of the shots and setups are reminiscent of famous films and filmmakers. The character Owen (played by the skinny AF Jonah Hill – more on him later) lives in an apartment that has a very Bladerunner feel, while shots of Owen’s family home is very Hitchcockian with lots of mirrors and a dramatic staircase (think Vertigo) and you cannot help but constantly say ‘that’s so Inception-like”. The ultimate reference comes from one of the last episodes, with Rust Cohle’s (True Detective) Big Hug Mug making a cameo.

The most bizarre of the entire experience is that Netflix describes Maniac as a comedy. And I am not saying that it is not a comedy, it’s just not a comedy in the way other shows are humorous. It was only after watching the entire series and sitting down to reflect that I could see the comedic bizarreness of it all.

Just a Superbad reunion?

ICYMI, Maniac is not the first time that Jonah Hill and Emma Stone have shared the screen. That being said, this show is no Superbad reunion! Stone, who has already shown her ability to play deeper and more well-rounded characters, shines in the role of Annie.

I am a huge Jonah Hill fan and, in this show, he really goes beyond anything he’s done before. Apart from donning completely different characters for each dream-state, he also tackles the complex Owen character suffering from severe neurosis and often finds it difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what not.

Several of the supporting characters are just as intriguing. I was excited to spot the sensational Jemima Kirke (from Girls fame), while the most obvious comedic person in the entire series is Dr James K. Mantleray, played by Justin Theroux. His mother Dr. Greta Mantleray, played by Sally Field, is probably the only sane person in the entire show.

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