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NBC's 'Manifest' Review: Boooooo! Booooo! Boooo!

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 25, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 25, 2018 |


When I tuned into NBC’s new drama, Manifest, I’d already resigned myself to a certain kind of terrible show, but much to my surprise — and dismay — Manifest is terrible in a completely different and unexpected way! It may be the only surprise of the entire series’ run.

If you’ve watched ad-supported television for more than 30 seconds in the last three months, you’ve no doubt seen commercials for Manifest, that show where 128 passengers take off in an airplane, hit some turbulence, and land five and a half years later. To the people on the plane, there is nothing particularly out of normal about the flight, but when they land, they learn that their friends and loved ones have long considered them dead and have moved on with their lives.

The show I expected from that premise was a sort of This Is Us-like melodrama full of tearful reunions, families starting all over again, passengers picking up the pieces of their former lives, and reacclimating to a world that has changed a lot in the last five years while no one on the plane has changed at all (in fact, they haven’t even aged).

There’s some lip service paid to that, but that’s not what the bulk of Manifest is about. This is not a relationship melodrama, or a Lost-style mystery. It’s a f—king police procedural, with a psychic element, and maybe a little something from the superhero genre, because this is broadcast network television, and they don’t know how to make anything else.

Holy hell, this is a bad show.

It’s not just the premise, it’s the acting and writing that are terrible, too, but the premise alone should be enough to put anyone off the series. Here’s the tl;dr: The main focus of the series is on Michaela and Ben Stone (the blandly attractive white people seen above), brother and sister on a family vacation who decide — along with Ben’s son — to take a later flight in order to get an airline voucher. Only thing is, when they land, five years have passed. Michaela and Ben learn that, in the interim, their mother has died. Ben, however, is reunited with his wife and daughter, while Ben’s son — who has a terminal illness — finds out that there’s a cure for his disease that was developed through research conducted by another passenger on the plane, Saanvi. But that’s the C-plot in the overstuffed pilot.

The B-plot is Ben’s efforts to make good with his family, especially his daughter who was traumatized by what she thought was her father’s death. Ben also doesn’t know that his wife apparently is involved with someone else now, because pilots need cliffhangers, yo.

The A-plot is this: All the passengers on the flight suddenly have psychic abilities. Michaela was a cop before she got on the flight, and she’s a cop when she gets off, and her ex-fiance — who remarried while Michaela was flying through that wormhole — is a detective, and it’s fairly clear early on that Michaela and her ex are going to solve some crimes with those psychic abilities — mysterious voices inside her head telling her what to do — with the aid of Michaela’s brother.

The other 125 or so passengers also have psychic abilities, and it appears as though each episode will probably work them into the Stones’ storyline one at a time. Probably to solve crimes. Maybe to figure out the mystery behind the wormhole. Almost certainly at some point to vanquish some as-yet-to-be-introduced villain who wants to kill all of these people with psychic abilities, or take advantage of them.

Also, God is probably responsible, because of the Bible verses, and because Roland Pryzbylewski from The Wire plays a priest. Also, the psychic abilities are accompanied by other clues with the number 828, which is the flight number on the psychic plane, which mysteriously blows up at the end of the episode.

Intrigued? Hooked?

Don’t be. It’s super dumb. And invariably, it will settle into a case-of-the-week format, because broadcast networks do not trust the attention span or the intelligence of their audiences. If Manifest is on your DVR, and you haven’t already watched the pilot, you can go ahead and scrub it.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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Header Image Source: NBC