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Maniac

Entry updated 31 August 2021. Tagged: TV.

US online tv series (2018). An Anonymous Content, Paramount Television, Parliament of Owls and Rubicon TV production for Netflix. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Written by Nick Cuse, Amelia Gray, Danielle Henderson, Mauricio Katz, Patrick Somerville and Caroline Williams, based loosely on the Norwegian tv series Maniac (2015). Cast includes Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, Jonah Hill, Sonoya Mizuno, Emma Stone and Justin Theroux. Ten episodes of between 26 and 47 minutes. Colour.

Two participants in a Drugs trial experience a series of Parallel Worlds.

"It was all a dream" narratives so often fail as to make the approach a no-go area for many writers of films and Television series (see Clichés). The Satire in Maniac is so exact, however, and its unifying theme of emotional dislocation so acute, that its Equipoise across space, Time and genre delivers precisely the comprehensive combination of Humour and pathos that other attempts at Postmodernism and SF sometimes miss.

The advertising-saturated Media Landscape of the New York of the Near Future obliges ordinary consumers struggling to meet sky-high rents and living costs to sell their services as guinea pigs, pretend-friends and professional mourners to corporate interests. A Statue of Extra Liberty (see Statue of Liberty) dominates the skyline, disaffected people retreat to live inside "A-Void Pods" and Virtual Reality directs the hopes and dreams of those who can afford it. Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech (NPB) is running a drug-trial for a combination of A, B and C tablets that promises to solve the innermost emotional disturbances of those taking the drugs by first confronting them with the causes of their trauma and then unravelling the problem of their suffering through shared fantasies. Annie Landsberg (Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Hill) meet at the trial and become enmeshed together in a series of drug-induced hallucinations as they first fake their results from the A pill and then become further entangled in the trauma of GRTA, a grieving Computer-hosted AI responsible for orchestrating the B and C stages of the Neberdine pharmaceuticals programme.

The Parody moves swiftly through the Cyberpunk of the pair’s core reality into a B- and C-induced shared involvement in a gun-battle between furriers and the Fish and Wildlife Service, a 1940s Pulp quest to find the long-lost 53rd chapter of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (part one 1605, part two 1615; trans 1612 and 1620) and a Fantasy epic in which Landsberg appears as Annia, a drunken elf. Landsberg and Milgrim keep reverting back to the drug trial, where various intimations of what has caused their estrangement from family and friends occur, and Scientists Dr Azumi Fujita (Mizuno) and James K Mantleray (Theroux) attempt to salvage the programme in the face of an increasingly violent and depressed GRTA, whose emotional matrix is based on that of Mantleray’s mother, Dr Greta Mantleray (Field). Milgrim’s final fantasy sequence is as Snorri, an Icelandic secret agent who has murdered an apparently-friendly Alien, before all concerned learn they have to live with their pain rather than hide from it or lash out at others.

The writing (mostly by Patrick Somerville) is strong and the cast seems to have a great deal of fun depicting the various characters engineered by the drugs-regime, but it is the epiphanies of the central characters that ring true and thereby cement the whole endeavour. The portrayal of mental illness – Milgrim has schizophrenia and Landsberg a borderline personality disorder – is never exploitative and the gradient of the secret sorrows of the pair achieves a genuinely tragic cast at points. Maniac loves what it makes fun of, not least of which are the kinds of broken relationships that make up much of the human condition. [MD]

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