TV Review: Manifest

What happened to the plane? The premise is still the only interesting thing that is manifested in NBC’s newest series, “Manifest.”

NBC’s “Manifest” is a peculiar smorgasbord of sci-fi, supernatural, crime, and mystery that throws a compelling hook. It hits off with a dramatic premise — passengers and crew members on a turbulent flight land, only to discover that they have not aged at all even though five-and-a-half years have passed while they were airborne. Their perplexing situation is only exacerbated by the realization that the world has moved on, for better and for worse. Furthermore, some of them are wrestling with supernatural experiences and abilities.

The series elaborately constructs its backdrop, creating a web of interconnected stories with the potential of developing rich subplots. “Manifest” primarily centers around the post-flight lives of siblings Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) and Ben Stone (Josh Dallas), as they attempt to rebuild their lives and scrap to uncover what happened to the plane and its passengers. Michaela, a police officer, returns to her pre-flight life to discover that her mother has passed away and her fiance, Detective Jared Vasquez (J. R. Ramirez) has now married her best friend. Ben, an associate professor, comes home to find himself unemployed, his daughter Olive (Luna Blaise) five years older, and his wife Grace (Athena Karkanis) in a secret relationship with another man. Ben’s son Cal (Jack Messina), who was travelling with him, is given another chance at life as an experimental treatment option was developed in the five years that he was on the plane to treat his leukemia. This treatment happens to be built upon the prior research of Saanvi (Parveen Kaur), a medical researcher who was also a passenger on the plane.

Despite the engrossing nature and clear potential of “Manifest,” the series falls on its face almost right away. The show’s plot is extremely cliche and predictable. Immediately after the flight, the passengers and crew members experience supernatural “callings.” In the case of Michaela and Ben, they are guided by voices that lead them on wild goose chases to solve crimes and save lives. When all seems lost, a supernatural voice guides the two to a miraculous revelation that solves the problem. They find missing children, save people from car accidents, and free a wrongfully convicted boy — all with the assistance of this mystical guiding forces. Hence, these adventures feel contrived and vapid. Everything seems to work out in the favor of the protagonists episode after episode. There is no grounded challenge and very little that keeps the audience on an emotional edge. The show’s progression as of now reeks of a crudely developed plot that will be dependent on deus ex machina to dig itself out of its own writing in the foreseeable future.

The potential of riveting subplots and deep character development is also wasted in favor of a fast-paced storyline. The series divests minimal resources in constructing anything robust outside of the main plotline. Topics such as familial turmoil between Ben and Grace, and Cal’s leukemia treatment and its connection to Saanvi are rapidly glossed over with an unrealistic amount of apathy. Ben, despite showing signs of strained emotions, just simply accepts that his wife had a relationship with another man while he was gone, and Grace seems to immediately cut off reliance on her boyfriend after her husband returns. The relationship between Cal, his leukemia, and Saanvi is unjustly relegated to the sidelines. What is perhaps one of the more interesting and original aspects of the show is never really developed. Saanvi’s interaction with Cal is suppressed in favor of her role as a sidekick to the Stone siblings’ supernaturally guided escapades. Ergo, this hyperfocus around the events of the plane leaves the audience with only superficial levels of knowledge about the values and traits of the characters and an inability to empathize with them.

“Manifest” possesses a fast plot and general predictability that is reminiscent of a soap opera. The show does little to branch out beyond its promising and well-crafted premise to create a holistic story. Rather, it relies a bit too heavily on its expository strength in order to draw audiences into tuning into the show. Each episode is merely another opportunity to glean more information on what happened to the plane. However, the series is still in its infancy, as it is currently only eight episodes into its first season. Therefore, it is entirely feasible that it will grow to exceed some of the aforementioned criticisms. In the meantime, give “Manifest” a watch, if it does not get better, at least you will find out what happened to the plane.

Grade: C-
Developed by: Jeff Rake
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2018
Starring: Melissa Roxburgh, Josh Dallas, Athena Karkanis, J. R. Ramirez, Luna Blaise, Jack Messina, and Parveen Kaur
Rated: TV-14

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