Manifest: The Deeper Mystery Will Bring Us Back For More

MANIFEST -- "Pilot"

I first watched the Manifest pilot screener back in May, when NBC shared it in preparation for the big conventions coming during the summer. Fast forward to September and we can finally discuss the series, where after a turbulent flight, passengers and crew discover the world has aged five years despite no time passing, in anticipation of its Monday, September 24 premiere at 10 p.m. ET on NBC and City.

My initial thought prior to watching Manifest was, “sounds like another cool show for NBC to cancel.” Then I checked it out, and quickly found myself caught up in the possibilities of the overall mystery. No the plane doesn’t crash land on an island, but where the hell was Montego Air Flight 828 for five years? Naturally, that question set the wheels in my brain a-spinnin’. Having just watched a few episodes of the now defunct The Crossing – which I honestly enjoyed – made time-travel instantly a viable option. What if a secret government agency went back in time to spare the passengers on Flight 828 in order to save the future somehow? Could one of the survivors be the great-great-grandson of the person that invents time-travel in the future? Yeah, I watch way too much TV. Plus 12 Monkeys and Continuum are still relatively fresh, so there’s that. Then again, it could always be a benevolent race of aliens saving mankind for some greater purpose. Perhaps there’s more of a supernatural answer or a godlike entity involved?

Since those options are all fairly predictable, I’m willing to bet that executive producer Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Contact) and his team have something completely unexpected up their sleeves.

The good news is that Manifest creator Jeff Rake has stated he’s not just winging it, but has an honest to goodness end game all mapped out. That’s reassuring, as we genre fans have been burned before with shows like Lost that wrap up with disappointing series finales. For now, Manifest has me intrigued.

MANIFEST -- "Pilot"

It’s no spoiler to say that NBC’s attempt here is to create a mashup between a family drama sprinkled with elements of serialized sci-fi storytelling. While its been years since I watched the Lost pilot, I do remember clearly that it was the flashback device that gave its characters real depth, and by the end I was just dying to know more about the major players. With Manifest, it’s more the flight’s missing five years that truly piqued my interest — basically the mystery of “the hatch” on Lost. That’s not to say Melissa Roxburgh (Valor) and Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time), who play Michaela and Ben Stone, aren’t great leads. We just don’t get much of a chance to delve into their background in this pilot. Sure, we get a few hints about their lives, but by the end of the hour everyone is still pretty much a mystery.

Less than three minutes into the series, the plane hits turbulence and the “event” takes place. That goes to show you the premiere zips past any real character development to kickstart the deeper mystery. We do briefly meet Parveen Kaur’s graduate student/medical researcher Saanvi on the plane, whose life ultimately becomes intertwined with the Stone family. Watching extreme turbulence as depicted in the show is never easy for me, having lived through something very similar over the Atlantic on a flight back to the U.S. from Paris. At least when we landed there was no five year time jump.

So much can change in just one year. I can’t even imagine losing five years as the characters do on this series. The returned passengers are forced to deal with a world that has moved on without them. Since five years is a long time to mourn a loved one, new relationships forming are inevitable. While everyone else is now several years older and simply in a different place in their lives, the returned have not aged a day.

Suffice it to say, some of the passengers including the Stone family discover they’re just a tad bit different now. At this point we can’t be certain all 191 passengers and the flight crew aren’t “changed” as well. This twist, in a way, throws the scientific/time-travel theories out the window making me lean toward the supernatural. Still, the question remains why this particular flight and why these specific folks?

MANIFEST -- "Pilot"

Manifest is the type of show that is well set up, but it might take viewers three to four episodes to get fully invested. The same was true for ABCs The Crossing which premiered April 2, 2018 and was unceremoniously cancelled by May 11. I stopped watching it immediately, because what’s the point? That’s the downside to these high profile genre shows. The big networks all want to score the next Lost, yet if the first few episodes don’t reel in millions of viewer eyeballs then it’s back to the drawing board. It’s a double-edged sword, really. The networks take a risk with a series like Manifest, then the Nielsen ratings impress absolutely no one and it’s all over before it even began. You can be sure they’ll try again the following fall, repeating the vicious cycle ad nauseam.

With a solid team of executive producers and writers, a terrific cast and one helluva mystery, there’s no reason this show should not do well. The passengers of Montego Air Flight 828 got a second chance, here’s hoping NBC does the same for the series if the opening night numbers come in low. I try very hard not to get too attached to brand new shows like Manifest. Why fall hard for something only for it to be taken away from you prematurely? I’ve seen the pilot several times now, but I still plan to tune in live to support the show. As I mentioned before, if they manage to seriously hook me by episode three or four… I’m in for the entire season.


What about you? Planning to add Manifest to your growing list of must-watch TV? Let me know in the comments below.

Manifest premieres Monday, September 24 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC and City TV.

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