A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Maniac stars Emma Stone (La La Land, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Jonah Hill (Superbad, 21 Jump Street) as two troubled people who agree to participate in a risky experimental drug trial. Stone plays Annie Landsberg, a low-level con artist who is mourning the death of her little sister, while Hill plays Owen Milgrim, the black sheep of a wealthy family who is covering up his schizophrenia. The drug trial isolates them, along with four other participants, and forces them to deal with their most traumatic memories. The show portrays various forms of drug abuse, and also features a lot of cigarette smoking. There are few sexual situations, but the ones that exist are explicit and strange -- for example, one character has simulated sex with a computer program.
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What's the story?
MANIAC follows two people with social problems as they step out of their everyday lives and enter an experimental drug trial that forces them to confront their deepest trauma. Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill) has schizophrenic qualities, not helped by how he's mistreated by his wealthy family. After getting fired from his job, he lies about his mental disorder in order to join the drug trial. Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) cons her way into the drug trial because she's addicted to the same drug they're experimenting with and this is her only way to get more. The drug trial removes Owen, Annie, and their co-participants from society and observes them as they deal with their personal problems through drug-induced memories and fantasies.
Is it any good?
The two leads are great, and there are tons of fun guest appearances from the likes of Justin Theroux (The Leftovers) and Sally Field, but the breakout star is the show's director, Cary Joji Fukunaga. Maniac takes place in an alternate universe -- maybe the future, maybe the present -- and Fukunaga's direction is relentlessly creative and kinetic as he reveals the ins and outs of this unique world. The direction is so good, in fact, that it makes up for the fact that he seems to just be making the story up as it goes along; three or four episodes in, Maniac starts to feel directionless, like it's more concerned about simply generating content than telling an effective story. That said, the creative team is so good that Maniac is a mesmerizing watch, if ultimately a little shallow.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about mental disorders. What is Owen suffering from in Maniac? How does it affect his behavior and his everyday life? How does it affect his relationship with his family? Is there any sign of the cause of his disorder?
What is Annie suffering from? How does she deal with her trauma? How does it affect her relationship with her family? How does her drug addiction affect her life?
What's going on with the drug trial? What are the problems with it? How do they affect Annie, Owen, and the other characters? How does Annie and Owen's friendship develop? How does the drug trial affect them?
For kids who love sci-fi
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