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We Need to Talk About How Bad the Acting Is on NBC's 'Manifest'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 31, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 31, 2020 |


We talk weekly around these parts about how horrible the writing is on NBC’s Manifest, littered as it is with aborted arcs, and about how showrunner Jeff Rake basically runs a writers’ room like our President runs the country’s pandemic response: With little thought beyond the episode in front of him, and by using the media — in this case, TVLine — to create a narrative he’s otherwise incapable of creating on his television show.

What we haven’t really done over the last 28 episodes of the worst show on television is talk about just how horrible the acting on Manifest is. Because it is. Manifest is not just the worst written show on network television, it is the worst performed. Granted, the writing has a lot to do with it, because the actors are given so little with which to work. They’re barely even characters, just human Alexas listlessly reading lines from cue cards with which they have no connection.

With the exception of maybe Athena Karkanis, I’m not sure anyone in the main cast is even a competent actor. It feels as though they were all pulled at the last-minute from Canadian soap operas, which is to say, they combine the Joey Tribbiani School of Smelling Farts with the lack of confidence that comes with working on projects with absolutely no production value.

It starts with Josh Dallas, and honestly: He is the worst. He always has sketchy step-dad quality about him, the kind of guy who speaks with a kind, soft voice to hide the sociopath underneath. He sets the wooden tone, and my God, is he wooden. If you took everything that we love about Keanu Reeves and ripped his personality down to the studs, you’d have Josh Dallas’ Ben Stone. I have also just learned that he is married to Ginnifer Goodwin, and this blows my mind. Suffice to say, however, there is little to no difference between the person in this interview and the character Ben Stone. They’re both just blank slates, attractive in the blandest way imaginable.

Melissa Roxburgh is not much better, notwithstanding her amazing eyebrow work. She just starred in the faith-based movie I Still Believe with Riverdale’s KJ Appa, playing the third lead, and I say this with as much kindness as possible, but that’s about her speed. She and Dallas actually make convincing siblings, because they read their lines similarly, and probably take their cues from Jack Messina, who plays the 11-year-old Cal. Some actors elevate those around them; Roxburgh and Dallas prefer not to show up the preteen.

Prior to this, J.R. Ramirez is probably best known for playing Oscar Arocho in Jessica Jones, and while I didn’t him in that, clips from YouTube suggests that he wasn’t much better in that. Meanwhile, I have seen every episode of Mad Men at least twice. It’s one of my favorite shows ever. Matt Long — who plays Zeke on Manifest — was on Mad Men for seven episodes. I have almost no recollection of him. He looks like he should play the poor man’s version of Scott Wolf in a remake of a reboot of Party of Five written by high-school students for a public access channel. It would still be better than Manifest.

Speaking of which, Zeke took center stage in this week’s penultimate episode of the season (but probably not the series). He and Michaela got engaged in last week’s episode and decide to get married in this week’s episode because Zeke is going to die in two days. Of frostbite. (Don’t ask.) At one point before his wedding, he took his shirt off and ice fell off of him, and it looks like his nose may fall off his face during the honeymoon.

But they do get married, and a lot is made of the fact that Zeke’s mom showed up despite her differences with Zeke’s Dad, and that Michaela’s mom couldn’t be there because she’s dead. Absolutely no one cares about these characters, and in a show where a plane jumped through a five-year time hole, it’s remarkable how hard the series has to try to generate drama.

Meanwhile, Ben is having visions of Flight 828 exploding, and Cal is kidnapped by the shadow figures at the end of the episode. They are holding him for ransom, insisting that Michaela interrupt her honeymoom with her husband who is about to die of frostbite to rescue him. It’s not entirely clear to me what the deal is with the shadow figures, except that they managed to break out of a prison transport bus. That may not entirely be the writers’ fault. I typically watch the show in the afternoon; I lie on the couch and hold my phone above my face to watch it. If I nod off, I drop my phone on my face, which wakes me back up. It’s sort of a twisted masochism.

I probably dropped the phone on my face five times this week.

Here’s the preview for the season finale.

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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