*Disclaimer- In discussing my thoughts on the series of Maniac on Netflix, there are spoilers throughout this article. Okay now that that’s out of the way, on to my thoughts!*
Okay, so before most TV programs come out these days there are usually always a trailer beforehand promoting these said TV programs. You know how you see a commercial or a trailer for a new show and think the following of TV Nerds thoughts, “UH YES! THIS LOOKS AMAZING! I WANT TO START WATCHING THIS LIKE YESTERDAY!”. Yeah, you know those TV Nerd thoughts. Well, maybe less dramatic than that but hey you get the drift of what I’m saying. You’re probably thinking that based on the thought like the one mentioned above that I would watch that program like right away. Is that ever the case with this gal? Never honestly, usually most of the time that be a nope! Usually if I’m really excited about a new show I actually wait a little bit of time to let my excitement lessen down a bit so I’m not overly excited and can watch the show seriously and not like, “AHHHH!!! Can’t Wait To Watch This!!!”. So my excitement and that initial hype that surrounds that new series has diminished up a bit so I can actually focus more than I might otherwise had been able focus if I started it right away.
And here enters that of the new limited series that is Maniac on Netflix. It started on September 21st of this year and I started it around the beginning of October. Not too long after its premiere and that’s a TV Nerd win considering there are like thousands upon thousands of new shows starting every week now. Well maybe not thousands, but sometimes it feels like that many new shows are starting every week. It really does.
Your probably thinking about now something along the lines of, “Wasn’t this article suppose to be about Maniac? Why is this TV Nerd gal keep going off topic!”. My apologies. I tend to babble on when talking TV about TV related items when writing my articles. I tend to go off topic here and there. It happens. And to that I always say an “I’m Sorry” and “Okay Now Moving On To Why I Started Writing This Article In The First Place”….. And so moving on as the saying goes…
On to Maniac! Okay, this was a limited series made for Netflix. Honestly, when I first heard that this was intended to be just a limited series my Nerd Self was like, “With this amazing cast and interesting premise, really only a limited series? Really? Every show says that these days and there is usually another season at some point around that TV corner soon enough”. Although, after watching the very much “limited series” that was Maniac on Netflix, I can now say that I’m pretty sure, of course not definitely sure cause I don’t run the network that is Netflix and all, but it’s pretty safe to assume that Maniac is definitely a case where limited series is for real with no chance of another season. Although, more on that later and that is later on down the lines on my thoughts of this very much limited series.
So what’s Maniac about? Hmmmmm….. Well, it’s about a lot really. It’s about how life can at times be a constant…. Why????? And the struggle of the human condition that life can sometimes be and feel like it can be at times throughout one’s life. It’s about depression, sadness, trauma, and also that slight thing of how you can always find humor in even the darkest of times cause life can sometimes be that ridiculous roller coaster of what!?!?! And how even at your lowest moment, your sadness moment, if you have just one true person, just one friend, just that one person who can really be there for you by your stand who really truly cares, that that is sometimes all you really need to get through something no matter how difficult of a situation in life you may find yourself in. This “limited series” is about a whole lot really, but that’s the core message of what I took away from what this series was truly about.
A brief overview of Maniac is that it follows two adults (late 20s/early 30s) Annie and Owen. They don’t know each other. They both go to a experimental drug trial at a facility. Annie has become dependent on this drug “A” to help get her through her day. She blackmailed a facility worker there to get into the drug trial that will contain the drug “A”. Owen, on the other hand, is at this drug trial because he is told he is on a mission to save the world and that a woman agent is to help him accomplish this goal. Owen has been talking with a person he believes to be his other brother that only he can see and his brother tells him about this mission he is to go on. He sees things and people at moments here and there but deep down doesn’t know if what he’s seeing is real or not. Owen has seen Annie’s face on billboards around the city and believes she is the agent to help him accomplish this mission and then he sees her in the waiting room before the drug trial begins. He believes she has been sent there to help him. They’ve never met before, but they will soon mean more to each other than they could of ever imagined.
Annie, played by Emma Stone, is a person wandering through her existence. She has a grudge towards life and a “Don’t Mess With Me Attitude” with her glances and stares. Like with anyone who may comes across as though Annie does, she’s been through things in her life that made her into the person she now is.
At some point she became addicted to a drug which in the world of the series is only referred to as “A”. She says this is something she needs cause it makes her feel better, it helps, it gets her through the day. We later find out in the series how at a young age her mother abandoned her family because she was sick. After that happened she took care of her sister Ellie and her father lost touch with reality. Not being able to handle life he went to spend his days in some type of pod. Disconnecting himself from the outside world, not truly being present for his children.
As time passes on from one year on to the next what Annie and Ellie want out of their lives change from each others. Ellie is engaged and is planning on moving out of the city to start a new life, a fresh start somewhere new. Annie isn’t really too thrilled about this and they take a road trip before Ellie plans on moving. Ellie is optimistic still about life and the possibility that things can be good still in life with just a little bit of hope. Annie loves her sister and truly doesn’t want to imagine daily life without her. Instead of telling her this, she just makes jokes and acts somewhat bitter towards her on this trip saying how she’ll be happy once she leaves cause then they can grow apart and be out of each other’s lives. Annie doesn’t really mean any of this, she doesn’t want to think of a life without Ellie in it and it’s just easier to make it seem like she doesn’t care than to break down.
They are driving when the unthinkable happens. They are both involved in a horrific accident by a driver under the influence of a substance. Annie survives. Ellie does not. It’s in this very moment that Annie changes even further away from reality and wants nothing to do with it. This moment in her life defined her up to this drug trial. It’s from this moment in her life that Annie feels such guilt. She tells Owen that she takes the “A” drug cause it makes her relieve that moment because she gets to be with Ellie again. She doesn’t want to feel okay, she just wants to stay with her sister even on the worst moment of her life because in that day she is still alive, still with her. She doesn’t want to feel good or okay, this is how she wants to feel. Why is she here and not her sister?
Owen is played by Jonah Hill. Owen is an overly sad individual. Soft spoken, looks down. He has a non-stop facial expression of as though he is dead inside. You feel as though you could see straight through him if you look directly into his eyes. He sees things and questions if they are real. He doesn’t know what is real and what is not. There’s a sadness, a longing, a tiredness, a heaviness to his soul that you feel every moment you see him on screen.
Owen comes from a wealthy family where everyone is high energized and comes across as though they deserve a sense of entitlement to them because of their wealth. And then there’s him. Everyone is loud, he is quiet and barely speaks. His brother is to be on trial being accused of a crime and Owen is going to take the stand in his brother’s defense. Owen knows what is required of him, what his family wants him to say, and truly doesn’t want to take the stand and be involved in this matter. Before the trial involving his brother, he goes to the drug trial to start his mission to save the world.
When Owen first enters the drug trial facility he sees Annie enter shortly afterwards. He’s seen her face on billboards all across the city and think it is a sign that they are at the same place at the same time and she’s the person to help him on this mission. She has no idea what he’s talking about and to just get him to stop talking she simply just goes along with what he’s saying. She later tells him it’s wasn’t a sign, she got paid to have her face plastered on these billboards everywhere.
Shortly after meeting in the waiting room, Annie and Owen enter the drug trial with the other participants. We never really get to know the other participants as we do Annie and Owen. During these drug trials the participants take the drugs of “A”, “B”, and “C”, one by one. Each time Annie and Owen, experience being under these drugs they go into a state of sleep where they experience life that seems real but it isn’t. During these sleep like states Annie and Owen intertwine in each other’s experiences which is not something that has ever happened in these trials. The scientists try to separate them in these states from each other’s dream experiences but it never takes, they always get back in each other’s dream like realities.
Each time a drug is taken Annie and Owen enter a dream like state where they in their minds go into an alternate reality where they are themselves but not themselves. They look the same, but they are different. Different personalities, different identities. At some point they always encounter one another each time. One time they are a married couple in an 80s like setting, one time they are divorced exes in a 50s like setting, one time she’s an agent set to save him from getting killed. Each time at a certain moment they start to remember things from their real life in these different personas. And at some point who they are in the real world enters who they are in this alternate reality and their true feelings and thoughts of their real life seep in little by little. Even though they’ve escaped the real world by taking this drug and entering a world in their mind that isn’t their own, what they still feel about themselves and their life and their experiences never truly ever leaves them even in a different reality far from their actual one.
Maniac was one of the most thoughtful existential shows I have seen in awhile. I say thoughtful because it’s one of those series that if you really take the time to think about what you’re watching it is a show that really rings true to a lot of things in actual real life.
This was a series I was expecting to just immediately love from its very first moment. The trailer looked super intriguing, enter an amazing cast of all stars, and a possible sad and existential tone. So, yeah I’m in! Although, the first episode was so extremely sad, heavy, and somewhat on a slow pace that I was slightly thinking, “Hmmmm….”. After a bit of time, I came to realize though how great of a translation the creator, writers, director and acting was of the first episode. I felt those exact emotions when watching it because the character of Owen felt exactly those emotions. It was not suppose to be easy to watch and the translation of all those feelings Owen felt came completely across on screen to a tee. Owen was in real distress, in real pain emotionally and those feelings came across on screen exactly how he felt when watching that first episode of the series.
Maniac is the type of series where you just can not base it on a first impression. It’s a series that’s not trying to be simple, easy or perfectly wrapped up in a nice bow. It’s the type of program that takes some time to understand and appreciate it for what it’s trying to say. This series deals with the imperfections in life and those emotions that can sometimes be so strong that it takes us away from who we really could be and what life could be like without those feelings that are holding us back from moving forward in our own life.
Annie dealt with a lot of tragedy in her life. Her mother left her family at a very young age leaving her to take care of her younger sister. Her father wasn’t there for the family like he should of been after the mother left them and because of that happening he just shut down from his family and the outside world entirely.
This experience defined Annie’s life and in many ways shaped her to become the person she became as she got older. In life it can be a frustrating thing when others treat you poorly or react in a negative way towards you. It’s even more frustrating how that can truly have an impact on how a person can feel about themselves as they get older and the years go by. No one wants to let someone else affect them negatively but sometimes it’s hard to not let it affect you emotionally and have an impact on how you look at the world and life. And this moment of her mother leaving her family behind changed the dynamic of her family and of Annie completely. How could it have not?
I thought of Annie as what I would refer to as a “functional but depressed” person. Meaning she felt that sadness from that moment of her life but she was still someone who could function through daily life. Then when her sister was tragically killed in the car accident, it was in that moment that she just completely could not even function at all anymore. She started to take “A” to feel better, to get by from one moment to the next, from one day to the next. She became dependent on this drug, not because a physician suggested it for her health. She took “A” to feel better because she couldn’t handle life without it anymore. She became addicted to it. It made her never forget that moment of her sister dying. She wanted to feel bad, sad. She felt that she never wanted to ever feel okay again and that was okay because she got the be with her sister in those moments again. In a moment when talking with Owen she said she grew up taking care of her sister, but her sister was the one who took care of her as they got older. Her sister was the okay one, the easier one, the functional one, so she wonders why this happened to someone okay with life.
By Annie never confronting her emotions of her mother leaving and sister dying she became someone she probably wouldn’t of become otherwise. She pushed those emotions down when her mother left. She pushed those emotions down when her sister died. Her sister dying is when she became dependent on not wanting to feel anything and got addicted to a substance that help her do that but it also her hurt. By Annie not wanting to confront the passing of her sister she could not move forward in her life. She didn’t need to forget her, but she needed to look at that moment and say how much her sister meant to her and how she is sad about it, and how she will never forget her and always miss her. At the end of the series, she has the choice of of staying in this alternate reality and essentially never waking up by being in this hypnotic state forever or confronting why in the first place she felt she the need to take a drug like “A”. She spoke to her sister and said everything she never said before her sister died and just felt that release of letting go of the past tragedy while never forgetting at the same time. When she dealt with the feelings of confronting that moment that she never could before she didn’t need to be dependent on “A” anymore.
I completely understand Annie’s thought process of getting to that point of life where you get use to feeling a certain way because of past occurrences that make get you to a certain emotional state of life. You get use to feeling sad and when you feel happy, you go from feeling one constant way to a completely foreign feeling which you don’t always feel as often, happiness. There’s an inconsistency and to feel okay and not sad, feels weird simply because it’s a feeling that necessarily isn’t always there for you. I feel Annie can be a relatable character for a lot of people because as much as we wish not to let things from our past keep us down and effect us emotionally, the truth is it can if we let it. And sometimes all you want to do is forget and be oblivious to those things in the past, but by not letting those moments go you are holding on to the very thing that is holding you back from moving forward. Sooner or later we all get to that point that Annie gets to, to finally let the past no longer define you. That point of confronting what held you back and just letting what happened happen, but not letting it hold you back from living any longer. Some of us get their quickly in no time and others get there at a turtle’s pace but eventually get there in due time.
Towards the end of the series the participants in the trial are given their individual diagnosis. Annie is diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder. Owen is diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia. Owen doesn’t come across as particularly surprised by these results as he was already aware of this. For years he’s seen things or people that he knew were probably not there, but at times he truly just didn’t know what was real or what wasn’t. In the last few moments you see him at a psychiatric facility. His family put him there not because of his diagnosis but because he went against his family in his brother’s trial and admitted he lied and his brother was is in fact guilty. Annie realizes she doesn’t want Owen not in her life and finds him there. He tells her to go away, she’s not real, he needs to be there, he deserves this, he’s crazy. She tells him that sure he should be medicated but he isn’t any more crazy than anyone else in this world and this is not the place for him. Nobody deserves this kind of life in a place like this. They run off together and drive away on an open road with the possibility of hope and happiness in the air that they haven’t ever quite had in their lives before.
Annie and Owen in many ways the world shut out. She came across as someone who was bitter and angry at the world. He came across as sad and silent, someone who it was just easier to ride off as crazy instead of trying to know or understand why. It’s easy to just not bother with someone when there might be baggage attached to them, but we all have some type of baggage attach to us. If someone may have some type baggage it should make us have more empathy for them, but unfortunately not everyone does or cares enough to stay when times get tough or not easy.
What truly helps in life is to have a friend by your side. Quality vs. quantity is the truest of sayings when it comes to friendships in one’s life. Annie and Owen never had a person in their life that really accepted who they were, a person they could truly count on to just be there. To be there not because they felt obligated or out of sadness or pity, but just because they truly cared. Annie and Owen found that in each other. They found that person that didn’t judge them and accepted them for who they were. They weren’t perfect, they might not function in ways of normalcy that would make others not want to bother and walk on by. As you get older you really realize how special having that one person you can call a real friend is. How not everyone is even lucky enough to even have that and you realize how friendship, true friendship is one of life’s most greatest of treasures. How it can make life better, how it can make life lighter, how it can truly make all the difference in the world to someone. To just have someone there who cares.
At the end of it, Maniac is a series that says a lot even when not saying anything. It doesn’t have all the answers. You might find yourself as a viewer frustrated cause it doesn’t offer those simply solutions to all the questions not answered. Cause at the end of it, life is complicated, life is sometimes an up and down roller coaster that can be a lot at times, life doesn’t also offer a simple easy solution to every problem that may face it. This is a series that doesn’t shy away from the craziness and confusion that life can sometimes feel and be to someone. Maniac does show how life can be a little less scary, a little more enjoyable to get through with someone by your side. Whether dealing with tough times or good times in one’s life that may occur is at least a little easier to get through with someone by your side to help or enjoy life that is meant to be lived.