In 2007, Emma Stone and Jonah Hill starred opposite one another in the comedy hit ‘Superbad’. Now, over 10 years later, they are back together for Netflix’s latest miniseries, ‘Maniac’.
Directed by Cary Fukunaga (True Detective, Jane Eyre), the 10 episode series follows Owen (Hill) and Annie (Stone), two strangers who end up taking part in a peculiar pharmaceutical trial. Although the purpose of the trial is initially unclear, we find out the experiment is aiming to produce a collection of pills which would ‘repair the mind’ and cure anything from mental illnesses to heartache.
The reasons for Owen and Annie’s participation in the trial become clear over time; Annie struggles to maintain healthy relationships and is dealing with the loss of a family member, while Owen feels like an outcast in his own family and suffers from schizophrenia.
After watching the first two episodes of the series, some may feel inclined to abandon the show due to the lack of explanation and somewhat confusing plot. Annie and Owen don’t yet know each other so the storyline is slightly choppy and we are introduced to the idea that Owen often sees things that aren’t there, so it’s difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. For example, Owen has conversations with an imaginary brother named Grimsson who tells him he has a ‘mission’ to complete.
However, these episodes are essential in building the atmosphere and providing us with key information which will help viewers understand and appreciate events that take place later on.
As Annie and Owen embark on the pharmaceutical trial, we learn that the process consists of taking a series of pills (A, B and C), all of which allow those taking part to experience fantasies or dream-like visions. Each participant is meant to see their own individual fantasy, however it soon becomes clear Owen and Annie are connected in some way as they appear in each other’s dream sequences.
It is during these fantasies we get to enjoy the chemistry between Hill and Stone. From a sequence where the two are a married couple in the 1980s attempting to transport an illegally acquired lemur, to a fantasy set in the 1940s where Owen and Annie are con artists attending a séance, it is thoroughly enjoyable to watch the characters bounce off one another in different scenarios.
Although during the fantasies Owen and Annie are essentially different people so therefore have different personalities, we see glimpses of the insecurities and problems they face in the real world. For example, Owen’s characters feel as though they don’t belong and Annie’s struggle to trust others and maintain healthy relationships.
Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux) and Dr. Azumi Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno), both of whom are running the trial, soon realise that Owen and Annie’s fantasies are connected (something that has never happened before). Dr. Azumi believes this is because she coded the computer that runs the experiments with basic empathy and the computer is grieving the death of Dr. Muramoto (a man who used to run the trial). But do Annie and Owen have a connection that can’t be explained?
The series has a Black Mirror-esque feel, but is independent in that it has its own style and feel to it. Throughout Maniac, viewers are given just enough information to keep us engaged, yet the audience is left guessing at the end of each episode just enough to leave us wanting more.
The performances by all are fantastic, but Stone and Hill are outstanding and the chemistry/connection portrayed in the show is entirely believable. Unfortunately Maniac is a limited miniseries, so it is unclear if we will see the pair in any similar projects soon, but I certainly hope we will.
By Olivia Hill