Binge-r #106: Maniac + Forever
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming
“The pattern is the pattern,” declares a character in Maniac, Netflix’s ambitious new drama about the gaps between reality and recrimination. That the speaker is a mocking vision who can only be seen by Jonah Hill’s Owen Milgrim, a disaffected scion who is potentially schizophrenic, matches the parameters of this series. With Emma Stone as the other foundation, playing the emotionally unsatisfied Annie Landsberg, this is a contradictory journey through multiple narratives, an irreverent satire that reaches into grieving and mental illness while shucking conventions at every turn. Here even Hall & Oates’ “Out of Touch” acquires a surreptitious new agenda when it emerges from a car radio.
Based on a somewhat more straightforward Norwegian series of the same title (which is currently on Netflix), Maniac was remade by the novelist and screenwriter Patrick Somerville and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who handles every episode here as he did on the debut season of True Detective. The show does not cater to easy expectations: the first episode is a primer of Owen’s precarious state, which are exacerbated by his cheerfully chilling wealthy family, with the second capturing Annie’s snarling disaffection and looming addiction. Both take place in a peculiar parallel world that mashes up the hardware from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and David Foster Wallace service economy nightmares with a pinch of Thomas Pynchon and a helping of Jim Henson.
The duo are physically united at a trial session for a radical new drug whose goal is to eradicate sadness by revisiting devastating moments, activating defence mechanism, and remapping neural pathways. Neither should be there, but once the room-size A.I. computer running the immersive experiences starts malfunctioning (it’s mildly depressed) Annie and Owen are fused together in each other’s minds. This lets Maniac find an eclectic bent that sets free the leads (who’ve come a long way since Superbad). They share a Coen brothers heist film set in 1980s New Jersey – the target is a lemur – and then a 1947 noir set in a mansion hosting a séance. All the while they’re being monitored from a lab whose own dynamic is less than professional thanks to scientists, and former lovers, played by Justin Theroux and Sonoya Mizuno.
You may not care at first as the plot takes off-kilter shape, but there is more than enough happening to keep you intrigued. In fact, there’s more than enough happening to make you shake your head in bewilderment. But for every depiction of amateur VR porn’s very dodgy hardware there’s also Sally Field adding madcap punctuation in multiple roles; one of them is as the physical form of the aforementioned computer, which takes a personal interest in Annie and Owen’s subconscious experiences. This is a limited series, a one-off where the key creatives have obviously decided to shoot for the moon. I can’t guarantee that the moon is actually there, but you’ve rarely seen a show that comes out of the cannon like this one does.
In Brief: Forever (Amazon): In some ways this just released Amazon comedy is analogous to Maniac: prominent stars, a propensity to upend your understanding, and mordant strands of humour. But once you settle in you realise how sweetly everyday it is, or notice the way that it couches unease in the midst of good intentions. Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen play June and Oscar Hoffman, a couple who are neither happily nor unhappily married. In their forties, the pair have found a balance that allows for his conservative streak and her doubts. That gets turned upside down at the end of the first episode, and then again at the end of the second, to become an accomplished portrait of existential unease in the most domestic of circumstances. It has a barbed sense of humour that turns minor circumstances into spiky eruptions, and the show is a terrific showcase for Rudolph, so often the hilarious supporting player (Sisters) or note perfect guest star (The Good Place). There’s no-one alive who can wring more laughter from an annoyed expletive than she can, all the while making clear where June’s frustration resides.
New on Netflix: With a furry warmth that defies the falsehoods of family movies, pastel-coloured production design that honours Wes Anderson, and a knowing villain’s turn from Hugh Grant, Paddington 2 (2017, 104 minutes) is simply a delight; Watchmen (2009, 163 minutes) is a flawed adaptation of the revered 1980s comic book series about banned superheroes, but some of the parts are among the best things blockbuster director Zack Snyder has done.
New on SBS on Demand: The Infinite Man (2014, 81 minutes) is a hugely under-appreciated Australian comedy, a time-travel romantic farce where the pursuit of true love leads to sublimely silly and heartbreaking outcomes; modern slapstick that pays homage to Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, Lost in Paris (206, 79 minutes) is a showcase for co-writers, co-directors and co-stars Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon.
New on Stan: Let Me In (2010, 117 minutes) is that rare Hollywood remake of a European hit (2008’s Let the Right One In) that bears comparison as Kodi Smit-McPhee plays a bullied boy who befriends Chloe Grace Moretz’s lonely vampire; Jackie director Pablo Larrain returns to South America’s fractious political history with Neruda (2017, 104 minutes), which imagines the famous poet as a happy political fugitive evading Gael Garcia Bernal’s dogged policeman.