Maniac Miniseries Becomes my Mashup Muse

Maniac_Image2This week, I got the idea to watch Netflix as part of my ongoing work on creativity.  I chose Maniac, a futuristic 10-part series about the attempt by a team of (flawed) doctors to create a computer-pharmaceutical treatment for mental health issues of various types — and the people they treat.  As I watched the show unfold, inspiration flowed into me.  From a seemingly cracked, broken and disordered beginning, the character arcs tie up remarkably. The lonely borderline-personality disordered beauty was going to see that she had the option of making other choices and was going to make them, I just knew. The young man with scizophrenia was going to transcend the mentally-unhealthy label and free himself from his pathological family.  And the sicko scientists who were creating much of the drama in the movie were going to get their just deserts, along with their human-empathy-enhanced psychologist computer.

Maniac functions on a kind of supercharged genre mashup. An incomplete map of the genres and their conflicts follows:

fiction type character(s) conflict
Recovery fiction Owen, Annie Both must overcome mental illness.

Owen: scizophrenia Annie:  substance abuse.

Family drama Owen, his father, and his brother Father seeks to force Owen to lie under oath to protect evil brother
Science fiction all A new type of mental health therapy combines pharmaceuticals and computer tracking of dreams
Psychological fiction Owen, Annie narrators are unreliable and tell incomplete stories
dystopian fiction all Strange and alienating fictional world includes technological advances such as ad buddies, humans whose job is following people reading them ads, robot dog pooper scoopers, and x-rated, whole-body virtual reality devices.

(Not charted:  mobster fiction; fantasy, and probably others) So what happened after I watched it?  I started writing my own genre mashup:  horror meets mythology meets nature writing.  A longer short story, this one will be about a man who goes into the woods and meets a dangerous cannibal hiker guy. It’s based loosely on the ancient Greek story of the cyclops, Polyphemus.

Thus, here I  introduce you to the mashup muse.

An interesting coda:  I watched this with Leo.  At the end, I asked him which character he identified with.  He said Dr. James Mantleray … I was like “What, the mad scientist?” He said, yes, well, when you have a PhD but are not a professor, yes, it feels a little similar, like you have the knowledge but the world doesn’t want you to do the work you’ve been trained for.  I guess I could see that.

As for me, identifying with both the mentally ill characters is a little unsettling.  But hey, I have to own it.  I do.

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Author: Susan Taylor Brand

Elementary teacher and blogger

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