The new series from director Cary Joji Fukunaga offers a rich visual experience, but fails to tie up all its missing ends. (Image via LongRoom)

The Drug-Induced ‘Maniac’ Falls Short of Being the Next ‘Black Mirror’

Emma Stone and Jonah Hill give enthusiastic, if unconvincing performances in a series haunted, in part, by its massive potential.

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Emma Stone and Jonah Hill give enthusiastic, if unconvincing performances in a series haunted, in part, by its massive potential.

Netflix blasted onto the Original Series scene in 2013 when they premiered “House of Cards” in February. Since then, the streaming service has created heaps of original content, including movies and miniseries like their newest production “Maniac.”

Maniac premiered on Sept. 21 when all 10 45-minutes episodes dropped into queues across the country. Director Cary Fukunaga, best known for his work on “The Alienist” and “It,” created an ’80s-era futuristic world set in New York City focused on telling the all-too-familiar story of boy meets girl, but with a twist.

The series tells the tale of Owen (Jonah Hill), Annie (Emma Stone), their experiences and motivations behind joining a three-day drug study conducted by Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech. The drug study aims to investigate the effectiveness of a three pill drug cocktail, labeled A, B and C, in order to eliminate the need for therapeutic intervention for trauma.

Pill A puts users into a delusion where they relive the worst day of their lives. Pill B works to break down the walls built by participants’ brains to protect themselves. Pill C stands for “confrontation,” and in it, users, in their own minds, confront their trauma and defeat it to wake up and be healed, according to the scientists.

The scientists conducting the study are the creators of GRTA, the computer in charge of guiding these delusions and protecting participants, Dr. Mantleray and his chain-smoking assistant Dr. Fujita.

Owen comes from a rich family, but insists on making it on his own despite having diagnosed schizophrenia. He suffers from delusions and they come in the form of a better version of his brother, but with a mustache. His imaginary brother tells him he must save the world, but the only catch is that Owen must have a partner to accomplish the goal. Owen begins seeing Annie in advertisements on the street and then again in the waiting room for the study.

Annie pursues the study because she sees it as an opportunity to continue the abuse of one of the company’s drugs. She routinely takes Pill A to relive the day of a car accident she and her sister got into while on a road trip in Colorado.

Reception for “Maniac” has been both positive and negative, though the series received an 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Meghan O’Keefe, from “Decider,” said, “Fukunaga’s talents as a director make the world of ‘Maniac’ lush, dense, and utterly seductive.”

On the other hand, some critics like Emily Nussbaum, a writer for the New Yorker, feel, “The show is half-baked and inconsistent: we’ve got a sad man and a badass woman, but they never feel like more than conceits, pre-stocked with conflict and resolution.”

My personal opinion of the show aligns more with Nussbaum rather than O’Keefe, as I felt underwhelmed, confused and bored by the lame execution of what seemed like a unique concept. If anything, the series seems like a mix between the layered realities of “Inception” and the brain trauma of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in a mash-up that narrowly avoided total breakdown.

The delusions experienced by both Hill and Stone’s characters fell short of what I expected from watching the trailer. I expected more of a fantasy meets technological acid trip, but instead got elves, kidnapped lemurs, a séance reminiscent of “Get Out” and Hill dressed up like a Post Malone look-alike.

Hill’s character appears somber, quiet and straight-faced for a majority of his lucid screen time, making this performance stick out among his other roles where he’s the jokester. I commended him for attempting to branch out and try a more serious role, but his attempt at being genuine didn’t convince me. After this feature, the “21 Jump Street” star will forever make comedy movies funnier and serious movies awkward.

Stone’s performance was forgettable in many ways because of her incomplete and confusing backstory. Her mom died or left; it never becomes clear. Her dad stays in a talking metal box in his backyard while her sister lives in the Midwest … or does she?

Her occupation, relationships and every other element of being a real person remain absent and thus make her a character viewers cannot relate to or like. You would think 450 minutes would be enough time to at least make viewers care about the characters, but no.

In one delusion on Pill B, the pair were married and had children. Stone looked like a cousin of “Long Island Medium” and Hill rocked an ’80s-style mullet in what looked like an extended ending to “Superbad.” Well, if Seth hadn’t head-butted Jules at the end of the movie and eliminated any chance he had of getting with her.

Anyway, they were on an adventure to find a lemur that was stolen from Stone’s car and give it to the daughter of one of Stone’s patients who had died. What proceeded was a trip the DMV, a shootout and a take down by the animal police. Confused? Join the club.

To be honest, spending an entire Saturday on the couch binge-watching television in the name of research wasn’t a total waste of time. One element I really did enjoy was the absence of a love interest. A predictable romance between the two main characters paired with the disappointing plot would have a complete flop in my opinion. Love primarily fuels adventure, but in “Maniac,” the fuel for the main characters seemed to be in the psychological betterment of themselves.

The series, overall, didn’t leave a lasting impression, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone hoping to use it as a last ditch effort to remember the glory days of “Black Mirror.” The storyline seemed rushed and incomplete. Viewers want to see interesting elements like drug-induced delusions, but not in exchange for context.

Showrunner Patrick Somerville announced on Sept. 24, to the disappointment of others, that there will not be a Season 2 of the series. Good, one less thing to watch.

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