If you had access to a pill, which forced you to relive the worst memory of your life, would you take it? The new Netflix series Maniac explores the idea of such a drug in a fictional, psychiatric experience designed to restore a user to a happy state with just three steps.
Jonah Hill and Emma Stone play mentally ill yet relatable characters who are selected for a drug trial, which promises clarity through a series of induced dreams. Hill has been told he's schizophrenia and Stone battled addictive behavior and memories of lost loved ones. It's in the test center isolation an unlikely friendship forms as the pair are forced to evaluate their own demons.
The show borders on Science Fiction though feels accessible and real to viewers. The characters are not far-fetched: they're complex and strange, but feel like staples of any neighborhood. But this neighborhood is not what you think.
The series is set in New York City, but it's the New York City of a foggy dream. Viewers may feel they know the place, but realize it's just as questionable as the technological advances set in the series. Hill, who plays Owen, sits beneath the "Statue of Extra Liberty" and walks unfamiliar streets in America's largest city. There's something eerie and hollow about the commercial city as it sits a foreign backdrop to a dreamy yet unsettling experiment.
There's a hazy halo around the show, feeling tangible but just out of reach. The show's mood implies walking the line of alert consciousness and something more subdued, a drug trip or a first taste of morning.
It's inside the clinic genre lines begin to blur. From tacky informational videos to a dark, odd comedy air in the likes of Twin Peaks, the show finds a unique voice: strong and quirky while serious enough to evoke a compelling storyline.
With washed out colors and whimsical shifts, the show follows some of Netflix's strongest pieces, like the dull demeanor of Stranger Things. Maniac, however, has its own life that holds viewers. They become invested in the fates of Owen and Annie and find themselves chasing the teased darkness the trial promotes.
The show itself feels like an odd psychosis, one that's easy to understand but implies the viewer may be missing something, something that can only come together with the pieces of buried demons that will soon be awakened.