What great timing.
Anticipated miniseries Maniac drops on Netflix tonight and its director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective, Beasts of No Nation) has just been announced as the next James Bond helmer.
Which means Maniac is the perfect opportunity for everyone to remember what a masterful visual storyteller Fukunaga is before those familiar strains of the Bond theme starts up again.
Maniac is insane and it's insanely good. An ambitious, enthralling and brilliant series, Maniac's hypnotic allure will trap you under its spell, burrowing deep into your consciousness, and it will not let go until the end credits roll on its 10th and final episode.
Its premise doesn't even begin to capture what a deeply textured world Maniac has created or what an exhilarating series this is to watch. It recalls the likes of TV series Legion or Charlie Kauffman-penned movies such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Being John Malkovich in how much of a mind-f**k it is.
Maniac's pedigree is impeccable, which is what happens when you have someone of Fukunaga's calibre attached. Emma Stone and Jonah Hill lead the charge with a supporting cast that includes Justin Theroux, Sally Field, Sonoya Mizuno (Crazy Rich Asians), Gabriel Byrne, Julia Garner (The Americans, Ozark), Jemima Kirk (Girls) and Billy Magnussen (Game Night). All the episodes were written by Patrick Somerville, who worked on The Leftovers.
Annie (Stone) and Owen (Hill) are strangers who both sign up for a potentially dangerous three-day, seconded drug trial that is supposed to identify your core trauma and "fix" your emotional problems.
Dr James Mantleray (Theroux) believes the mind can be reprogrammed to "heal" itself.
Annie is angry, disaffected and has a difficult relationship with her family. Owen, the son to a wealthy family, has struggled with a schizophrenia diagnosis for many years. He hallucinates his brother who tells him there's a pattern in the universe and that Owen has been chosen for something grand.
The biotech company behind the experiment has spent seven years trying to get the drug to market and there are ominous references to past "incidents" in former trials. But when your mind is at stake, everything is at stake.
Annie and Owen, along with other participants, take a staged pill which puts them under and then a computer, with a mind and empathy drive of its own, reads what they experience. For some reason, Annie and Owen's dreamscape trips crossover, leading some to suggest, and scoffingly dismiss, that they're somehow cosmically connected.
Of course, you're never really sure of what is reality or what is fantasy. The dreamscapes Annie and Owen are plunged into span genres and are wildly different in tone, it's like watching a short movie but one that is still coheres to the overall story.
Sometimes it's a bizarre lemur caper black comedy, or a large-scale Middle Earth fantasy or a 1947 heist in a secluded country house hosting a seance. Each of these trips gives Maniac a chance to stretch its creative legs while still revealing insights into Annie and Owen's subconscious pain.
Stone is the star here, slipping into these different personas but never losing touch of Annie's main deal and she is an utter delight to watch — and you will watch it with wide eyes, unable to quite believe she's pulling it off.
A more understated role for Hill than he normally occupies, his vulnerable, sad sack Owen shows there's more depth to the comic actor than most movies give him room to do. And then there's Theroux, whose "overacting" is actually kind of genius, providing a dramatic counterpoint that sits perfectly in this strange, strange universe.
That Maniac can veer off into all these seemingly disparate stories and still part of a whole is a testament to how thoughtful and accomplished this series is.
Fukunaga's hand gives Maniac a gorgeous neon-infused aesthetic full of deliberate patterns — the way the sleeping pods are arranged in a hexagonal honeycomb pattern is mesmerising. Every frame is a visual smorgasbord to consume.
And while Maniac seems to exist in the present day (Theroux's character is said to be born in 1977), the 2018 rendered by Fukunaga is stuck in late 1980s or early 1990s — all the technology has stalled and the world is replete with clunky computers and dot matrix printers.
It's dystopian in that people seem emotionally distant and unavailable and corporate "Ad Buddies" can monetarily subsidise your purchases if you can stand them sitting next to you reading ads while you eat the meal they paid for.
It's all to build this uneasy energy, to keep you constantly off-balance. And that's a good thing because there's no possible way for you to predict what's going to happen next.
Maniac is truly an exciting series doing something new that will challenge you emotionally. It's one of the best shows 2018 has thrown up.
Maniac is streaming now Netflix.