- Review by Koray Savas - January 24, 2018
Maniac is a 10-part limited series that aired on Netflix in 2018. Adapted from a 2014 Norwegian series of the same name, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s approach to the material keeps much of the concept the same while spearheading a uniquely told love story, allowing Maniac to stand on its own merits. Fukunaga brought composer Dan Romer onboard from 2015’s Beasts Of No Nation. The music follows the narrative beat for beat, embodying multiple genres while weaving a consistent thematic core throughout.
Annie and Owen are the central characters at the heart of Maniac, and their plight to discover self-worth and purpose drive the wacky narrative throughout the series. Despite its dry and occasionally on-the-nose humor, Maniac is about learning how to grow and move on from pain and loss. The show explores human relationships and our disconnect from the world we inhabit and those around us. This aspect of the story is where Romer’s music truly shines. Annie’s theme is light and airy, yet backed with heavier strings to represent the duality of her personality: a sardonic addict with a dark past. Her theme varies throughout the score and slowly builds to mimic how her relationship with Owen grows. When Maniac ultimately reaches its conclusion, Romer takes us back to this theme, except this time around it is full of life and joy. The orchestrations are brimming with color and brightness absent from anywhere in the score (hear “Annie and Owen”). A true culmination of what came before and a sweet release of the hardship and woes of the narrative journey, Fukunaga hands the dramatic reigns over to Romer. His music speaks for these characters, and sends us off with the a newfound appreciation for life and companionship.
Moreover, the body of Maniac’s score explores darker as well as whimsical musical identities. As Annie and Owen travel through multiple computer-generated realities, Romer shifts the musical style of the score to match the tone and mood of each respective fantasy. “The GRTA” is a great representation of a sinister and brooding motif for the computer mainframe in charge of running these simulations. Low register notes and elongated cello lines are backed with a ‘tick tock’ to create an unsettling foreshadow of things to come. “The Lake of the Clouds” features more intricate melodies and flurried string writing to represent the medieval fantasy genre. These are but two of the countless examples of how Romer molds the music to the narrative.
Dan Romer achieved something very special with Maniac. Its themes of love, loss, and progress are echoed beautifully through the music. Through the use of melody, orchestration, and harmony, Romer takes the listener on a journey filled with humor, action, and drama, making Maniac one of the best scores of 2018 and a must listen.