Netflix’s latest stellar limited series has landed. Combining the talents of Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, together again for the first time since Superbad, they have come a long way in the intervening years. Both are adept at comedy, but also able to turn in a serious performance when needed. The darkly comedic Maniac is suited for both of them.
Maniac was created and developed (and mostly written) by Patrick Sommerville, adapted from a Norwegian television series of the same name by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard and Ole Marius Araldsen. Bringing Cary Fukunaga onboard to direct the entire series, it is his first directorial effort since Beasts of No Nation, and his first TV since the excellent True Detective Season 1.
Beginning with a weird, existential 1980s infomercial style, it sets the tone for the entire series: a strange mix of technological and retro. In this day and age money is an issue for everyone. Just like internet advertising pays for the websites we visit, AdBuddys are employed to read out adverts to provide the money needed for buying things and Friend Proxies, which are surrogate friends that can be rented to fill those long lonely hours or for those that can’t be bothered to maintain proper friendships. This supplemental income service, one amongst many, has almost become necessary for most to engage with these AdBuddys at a time of much increased costs.
This first episode details Owen’s (Hill) story. The Milgrim family are preparing for a court case, centred around Owen’s older brother Jed (Billy Magussen). Owen is being pressed into answering questions about his mental health and his ability to discern between fantasy and reality. With the family placing Owen firmly into the lesser believed category, it becomes clear that he is needed to be the former for the sake of his brother.
Owen Milgrim is the fifth son in the successful Milgrim family and is an outcast in his own family. They don’t embrace him but constantly isolate him from the other brothers and treat him differently. Jed, meanwhile, is the life and soul of the party: successful, popular, engaging, the antithesis of Owen. Oh and Jed is engaged to Adelaide (Jemima Kirke), who Owen feels he has a connection with.
To highlight the mental issues that Owen is experiencing, we see him visited by a man invisible to other people named Grimmson (who looks suspiciously like Jed) who gives him information on Owen’s next “mission” – a girl will show up and provide him with the next part of his mission, which Owen obviously believes.
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As we progress through the episode we see that Owen is cut off from the family money and success, choosing instead to follow his own path away from the family firm, but he gets laid off from his job. Finding himself needing to use an AdBuddy for his train ticket home, Owen actually needs to listen to the adverts to find some supplemental income to tide him over. In his desperation, Owen decides to try the Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech drug trial and turns up for testing, which he passes and gets put onto the ULP trial. It is here that he first claps eyes on the anti-social and combative Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone), who he has been seeing in various adverts and is obviously drawn to her in the belief that she is his “contact” that Grimmson mentioned earlier.
With Owen being admitted into the trial and housed into a semi-futuristic dorm with the other participants. Owen’s fixation and desire to get his next “mission” from Annie begins with her showing him her usual coping mechanism, aggression, but when she realises that he won’t give up she turns to compliance. Playing along with his delusion and giving him his next orders to keep him sweet and off her case.
‘The Chosen One!’ is a slow but interesting start to this series. It gives a solid grounding of who Owen is and what he is doing on this trial at NPB. Highlighting the need for connections and the coping mechanisms that are in place to mitigate these times of loneliness, this is a world where everyone is parcelled away in their own little spaces, reliant on services to bring them the connections that they need. Jonah Hill is almost unrecognisable as Owen, but his earnestness and desperation flood through the screen.