I don’t know, gang.
What Maniac is doing here—telling a goofy period story under the sci-fi guise of the B pill—is cool, in theory. It reminds me a bit of Ubik, Philip K. Dick’s very good novel with similar time slippages and shifting frames of reference, especially when certain symbols (Dr. Mantleray’s book for example, or owls) become fixed points for the characters. And the production values are, as ever, stellar. (I, for one, enjoy Jonah Hill with a mullet and tube socks, looking like he just came from a rooftop party in Bushwick.) A caper with a lemur on 1980s Long Island sounds amazing! But I also am sort of asking myself, “Why?”
Here’s what literally happens over the course of this episode: Linda, in an effort to return an illegal lemur to the daughter of a woman she treated at a nursing home, breaks into a fur shop (the titular Furs By Sebastian) and enlists Bruce in the effort. Their marriage, which seems to be in a point of tension (though we don’t see much in the way of real conflict between them) gets onto slightly more solid ground, until the cops show up to arrest Bruce. Back in the “real” world, Annie and Owen are still experiencing the B pill.
By the end of “Furs By Sebastian,” we don’t know much more about Annie and Owen—the characters we’re ostensibly following over the course of Maniac—and we don’t know how we should be thinking about this self-contained story. In some respects, that’s totally fine (imagine an anthology show where every episode was Jonah Hill and Emma Stone being bad at crimes), but within the framework of how Maniac wants us to react, it feels a little slight. I’m going to try hard not to make the same point over and over again in these recaps (to break kayfabe for a second, I’ve seen the next episode, which is similarly off in a different decade, and am led to believe much of the rest of this season does this kind of genre-hopping), but I will say that as Maniac begins to decay and devolve into other settings, I’m going to make an effort try to think about how well those stories function on their own, tempered by the understanding that they’re supposed to be adding up to something at some point. Or are they?
With that in mind... “Furs By Sebastian” is pretty fun. Jonah Hill is a little muted throughout the episode as the pushover husband Bruce, but Emma Stone relishes the opportunity to play a wacko ’80s housewife, a woman for whom everything makes total sense even though nobody else has any idea what’s going on. I appreciate that most of the actual caper parts of the episode are motivated by Linda’s surprising competence, including reading the address of the fur shop off of the reflection of the DMV agent’s glasses in the opening scene. The way she says “gesture of reconciliation” when talking about Wendy the lemur is great, as is the way Hill describes her as a “force of nature.” These lighter moments feel breezily like Hill, Stone, and Fukunaga just playing around.
Eventually, there is a bit of a character moment between Annie* and Owen* when Linda tearfully tells Bruce the story of her parents splitting up, and her mom leaving—only for Bruce to point out that her parents are still together. Hill and Stone do their best to sell this conversation, but we’ve already heard a lot to suggest that Annie’s backstory isn’t what she’s made it out to be.
Instead my favorite parts of the episode are, as ever, the tighter, quippier parts—especially everything involving Agent Lopez, the animal enforcement agent who really wants to be cop, and is just psyched to be involved in a shootout with the mob-related furriers. Not unrelated: also the cruelest, least sentimental moments of the episode; in particular, when one of Linda’s patients admits she’s happy that Nan died instead of her. And when Linda finally delivers the lemur to Nan’s daughter, she learns she’s been engaged in a mission of emotional vengeance. It turns out that the argument that ended the mother-daughter relationship was over whether lemurs are better than human children. This type of casual emotional callousness is, honestly, a good look for Maniac, and I’m hoping for more of it.
- Sebastian trying to sell Bruce on bulletproof fur is very funny.
- Bruce and Linda’s daughter does some really excellent delivery of goofy kid jokes: “Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon?” “No.” “Great food, no atmosphere.”
- Watching the elderly people work out in front of an ’80s exercise video through the fish tank is one of the better background moments the show has done so far.