Review: Netflix’s Maniac keeps you hooked

Maniac is a 10-episode dystopian TV series that launched on Netflix on Sept.21. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

Looking for a mind-bending television show to get you in the Halloween spirit? Maniac may be just what you need.

Netflix launched the new 10-episode series on Sept. 21. Filed under both the drama and comedy categories, it has also been assigned to genres like sci-fi and psychological thriller.

The show is set in New York City. The two main characters, Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) and Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill) are strangers who end up connecting on a deep level during a pharmaceutical drug trial.

The show is meant to depict modern time, but in a dystopian society, filled with ad-obsessed people and technology that works differently from how we use it now. The city gives off a mid-90s feel with dingy vertical blind billboards covering bus stops and skylines decorated with vintage neon signs.

Netflix says the series is “set in a world somewhat like our world, in a time quite similar to our time.” Tiny robots roam the streets with the only purpose to clean up after dogs, and purchases can be made by using an “ad buddy,” a human that walks around and reads you ads when you don’t have any money. Think of the 30-second ad you watch before a YouTube video. Now think of that ad as a human. Terrifying, right?

The pilot episode quickly shows that Milgrim is mentally unstable. He encounters an imaginary brother who tells him more than once that he’s a hero with an undisclosed mission to complete. Milgrim is also under stress from his wealthy family who’s pressuring him to lie under oath to protect his non-imaginary brother.

We don’t learn much about Landsberg until the second episode, but when we do, she is extremely short-tempered and also has problems with her family – her father lives in an underground pod in the backyard, isolated from society.

Landsberg and Milgrim met while participating in a seemingly high-tech drug trial. Landsberg weasels her way into the program to get more access to a drug she was taking on the street. The drug calls her to fall into a dream-like state and replays her worst memory in her mind, a heartbreakingly tragic, disturbing scene, viewed in vivid detail.

When Landsberg runs out of the drug, she swears it’s the end of her drug abuse. But her urge to replay this scene again in her head leads her to lie and cheat her way into a drug trial at Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech.

Milgrim was asked to participate in the drug trial program by a stranger over the phone. The person on the phone called Milgrim a “hero candidate,” which led to his decision to participate. He believed it was his imaginary brother pushing him in the direction of a mission that would “save the world.”

The trial promises to fix the participants problems, whatever they may be, regardless of the severity or type of mental illness they may have. The GRTA, a sophisticated mega-computer, identifies, maps and confronts how each individual’s brain works. It aims to remap the brain to make it work more efficiently.

“You’ll be born again, but not as a baby,” said the GRTA.

Milgrim and Landsberg, as well as ten other subjects accepted into the trial drug program, take three different pills that provide them with three different experiences.

The drug program is run by Dr. Azumi Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno) and Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux). But suddenly, the GRTA becomes emotionally involved in the program, more than expected.

The show is unlike anything I’ve watched.

The pilot episode made me so curious, and confused, managing to captivate me and keep me watching until the end. The show also has compelling acting, excellent screen writing and great filming.

Netflix has yet to announce a season two, but this season wrapped up so nicely I’m not sure it needs one.