🇳🇴 MANIAC 🇳🇴
MANIAC (2014) is a Norwegian comedy miniseries available on Netflix. 10 x 20 min episodes. Cert 15 UK. Subtitles.
“Maniac is the story of Espen, a man in his thirties who is loved by everyone. Every day is a party and there’s no limit to what he experiences. We meet Espen in various situations where everything is amazing and whatever happens, Espen knows how to handle it. It is simply too good to be true. Espen has escaped into his own head and where his life is a fantastic fantasy world. In real life, he is a patient in the psychiatric ward. What would you choose if you were in Espen’s situation – to be a fantasy hero or an everyday loser?” Espen Petrus Andersen Lervaag
Espen Petrus Andersen Lervaag as Espen
Mats Mogeland as Lindberg
Håkon Bast Mossige as Håkon
Ingeborg Raustøl as Mina
Arif Salum as Jeffrey
Marte Germaine Christensen as Ester
Ruben Løfgren as Isaksen
Rudy Claes as Eva Rosenkranz
Anette Hoff as Juni Anker-Hansen
Kim-Daniel Sannes as Storm Anker-Hansen
Director: Kjetil Indregard
Writers: Ole Marius Araldsen, Kjetil Indregard, Espen Petrus Andersen Lervaag
Cinematographer: Matthew Weston
Costume: Marie Nesset, Hanne Randin
This Norwegian series was remade by Cary Fukunaga into a comedy, drama, sci-fi of the same name for Netflix (2018). The original creators are credited on IMDb. Two of the producers were also producers on the US version.
Hotel Caesar, which features, was the longest-running soap opera in Norway, 1998-2017.
⚠️ This review contains mild spoilers ⚠️
I have watched Maniac twice now (well three times if we count the excellent American very loose remake). What did I make of this series which revolves around the protagonist Espen, a man who lives in a world of fantasy while in a psychiatric hospital having lead a perfectly normal life just a year before?
One of the plus points of this show is that Espen himself is very engaging and the viewer does build up sympathy for him despite some of his more challenging actions. I thought the real Espen (the actor) showed great range in this being very funny and also tragic.
If Espen is the hero of his own story (?) then Håkon, his alter-ego “best friend” is the villain. Again I loved the range shown by the real Håkon (this isn’t at all confusing is it?) who veers from hilarious to menacing very easily. Really impressive.
The supporting cast is solid in this, even though some are occasionally portrayed as Nazis. Ingeborg Raustøl is excellent as the highly invested Mina who has her own issues which influence why she cares so much about Espen.
Each episode focuses upon a different genre of film or TV and the tropes that accompany them. We start with the superheroes Wolfman and Walkman (yes, seriously) and a feline heroine. The costuming and masks are really well done in a really bad way! Everyone wants to lead an extraordinary life and be a hero, right?
“Normal is no fun”
The “war film” occurs in more than one episode and does give some of the funniest moments (a twig as camouflage is just one). We definitely get the over the top acting and other tropes from this genre! There is betrayal and being a “double agent” is written large in this, no coincidence that this is a woman.
Soap opera is hilariously handled but with a very strong undercurrent of paranoia and betrayal. Rudy Claes was in the real Hotel Caesar for over a thousand episodes (yes, a thousand!) and is very funny indeed. The looks to camera by the players are classic.
Stand-up comedian… as a comedian Espen (real-life) certainly revels in this genre. We get canned laughter and playing to a live audience. It is no coincidence that this is the “funniest” episode whilst Espen is faced with THE saddest and most emotional event. The border between laughter and tears is a very narrow one. We can see how this imaginary world is his refuge.
We haven’t had zombies yet, have we? So yes, it is time for an episode where all the patients and staff (except Espen and Håkon) are zombies. I’m sure this is a statement about medication and also how Espen sees others who live in the real world. This is a pretty bloodthirsty episode and if zombies aren’t your “thing” you might want to fast forward.
The Art Heist! I loved this episode which was genuinely very funny (there is a dance scene!) and also touchingly sad. They threw everything you can imagine from heist movies. This is one episode when the editing back and forth between fantasy and reality works well.
“Continue this dream life”
What’s left? Ah yes, a period drama with a brilliant director (Espen of course). This film is to be “the saddest story in the world”. The switch between imagined premiere and accolades and the real world of meeting old quiz mates is both funny and sad. More and more we see the real world seep into Espen’s fantasies.
American college football movies from the ‘80s are from a very particular time and place. This episode made me cringe more than any other I think. Maniac draws attention to the aspects of these movies which are not very “pretty” when you look back at them. The attitudes and actions displayed are shocking. Emasculation is clearly a theme here as well.
My absolute favourite episode is… the Spaghetti Western. We get the music, the clothes, the hats, the horses, the sexual mores… Who is bad? Who is betraying whom? Why does Håkon hate the “girl” so much? What will happen when you have a “Mexican stand-off”? This is a game-changer in Espen’s story.
The portrayal of women is definitely potentially problematic in this show however it is clear that it is the alter-ego Håkon who holds these attitudes and does these unacceptable things (or makes Aspen do them). They also reflect the genres which they are exploring. You should (hopefully) be shocked.
The final episode is almost entirely one of normality. Without giving away major spoilers (so I am not going to say very much more), do Norwegians do happy endings? Is this a happy ending? What is a happy ending? Is it Back to the Future? The viewer can make up their mind.
I can recommend Maniac with the provisos that it does have a fair amount of nudity, some strong language, lots of misogyny thrown about (not uncritically, it’s not there just to “entertain”) and sexual language. It also does have a man who is mentally ill at the centre of the humour, so that may offend some, and it doesn’t delve into mental health treatments.
“Maybe he’s better off in his fantasy world”
3 Nominations at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival (2016) Outstanding Actor – Comedy Series, Espen Petrus Andersen Lervaag; Outstanding Actress in a Comedy TV Series, Ingeborg Raustøl; Best Comedy TV Series, Espen Petrus Andersen Lervaag, Håkon Bast Mossige, Ole Marius Araldsen