A few years ago, two A-listers such as Jonah Hill and Emma Stone taking on a Netflix show would have likely made far bigger waves that it has, but these days, Hollywood stars appearing on the small screen is par for the course. For those that have the talent, it can be a great opportunity to show off their acting chops, and 'Maniac' is no different. The new Netflix Original series gives Jonah Hill, in particular, an opportunity to show that he's not just the comedy wise-guy we've seen in the likes of 'Superbad' and '21 Jump Street' and well, sure we all know Emma Stone is just fabulous.
'Maniac' also boasts the directing credentials of one Cary Fukunaga, whose previous work includes the first season of 'True Detective', for which he won an Emmy, while he has also recently been announced as the director of the untitled 25th James Bond film.
Having Fukunaga on board automatically can leave you assured that you are in for something visually stunning, and 'Maniac' really is. It kicks off in a world that seems just like ours in many ways and yet totally different in others. It's a New York City complete with not one but two Statues of Liberty and while technology is everywhere, it's more in a way like Steve Jobs never existed and it's difficult to even ascertain what decade it is at times.
The first two episodes introduce us to our central characters Annie (Stone) and Owen (Hill) and what leads them to finally meet and end up on the drug trial which will dominate the rest of the series. Both are struggling in different ways, Owen is clearly gripped with depression and schizophrenia while Annie is definitely suppressing a tragic past with her addiction to an A-shaped pill. They're both as unlikable as they are likable really, and it's difficult to see why we needed two whole episodes to get their back story, just get to the trippy drug trial already!
It's then when things really get going as Owen, Annie and other participants set about testing a drug that is said to cure them of all their woes and set them on a track to a happy life. What's not to like, 'ey?
Naturally, it's not as easy as it sounds, with the trial taking Annie and Owen on a time-travelling adventure where they keep finding each other in different worlds time and time again. They're everything from 1920s thieves to looking like they're extras in the cast of 'Lord of the Rings'. No shortage of budget here.
All of this is enjoyable but, at times, 'Maniac' feels a bit like 'Inception' without the plot. Watching Jonah Hill and Emma Stone play dress-up for almost ten hours is fun and all, but the show drags at times and you can't help feel it would have made a much better (and more succinct) movie.
The emotional complexities of both Annie and Owen are there from the get-go but it doesn't feel like 'Maniac' tackles their mental struggles with any great depth. While its themes of disconnection and escapism are relevant more than ever, it felt like the show got too wrapped up in itself to care about really addressing them properly.
Overall, it's a series that could only have been made in the Netflix era, and it's experimentation with form has to be admired. I wish I enjoyed it more, I wanted to enjoy it more, but I'm afraid, the whole thing never seemed to quite reach the dizzying heights that it could have.
A good show, that could have been great.