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Netflix’s ‘Maniac’ review: Confusing mess with weak characters



Hill and Emma Stone in the upcoming Netflix series


  • 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

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

You can watch the trailer below:

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