Television and film set in dreams and hallucinations struggle with the fundamental limitations of the rational mind. Too often, what people experience as visions in TV and movies aren't strange enough. They're slightly bent, but not as off-balance as real dreams and hallucinations tend to be.
Maniac, Netflix's new 10-episode series that originates with scientific trials of psychoactive drugs, spends a significant amount of its screentime in artificially induced dreams. Stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill play Annie and Owen, differently down-on-their-luck test subjects who enter a round of experimentation that looks like wacky scientific experiments often do: put on a gray jumpsuit, take a pill, get in a chair in a sterile room, be strapped in, have something clamped to your head.
We are in the hands of creator Patrick Somerville, who wrote for The Leftovers, and Cary Fukunaga, one of our most exciting directors. His distinctive style in 2014 made True Detective appear to be, in retrospect, somewhat more than it really was.
Owen is miserable and rich; Annie is miserable and poor. But both have reasons to want to take the drugs that the very weird Dr. Mantleray (Justin Theroux) promises can fix the mind by inducing a series of "experiences" within it. For initially unclear reasons, Owen and Annie, despite having met only briefly before they go under, wind up inside each other's dreams. They share visions of both a working-class marriage and upper-crust capers before they begin to wonder why they're connecting and what they should do next.