Series Premiere Date: September 24th 2018
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Starring: Josh Dallas, Melissa Roxburgh, Athena Karkanis, J.R. Ramirez, Luna Blaise, Jack Messina, Parveen Kaur
‘…I’ve tried to lean a little more heavily into the underlying themes I think are kind of relevant to the world right now. The show is ultimately about the possibility of redemption. The possibility of a second chance, being able to explore inside of ourselves and figure out: “What would I change about myself, if I had the opportunity to do that?” And, also, hopefulness about the idea that maybe there’s something bigger than all of us. When so many people are on all sides of the political spectrum and are feeling a great sense of frustration about our lives in big and small ways, that maybe there is something bigger out there guiding us, that will allow us to be a better version of ourselves. I’m hopeful it’ll connect with a lot of people…’ With this above quote by NBC’s Manifest creator Jeff Rake, taken from an interview with The Hollywood Reporter not too long ago, Manifest is indeed shown to us as, I reckon, one of this season’s most anticipated new shows, from any broadcast network, and at any time (inclusive of mid-season shows as well). With the pilot episode now having debuted a few nights ago to critical and commercial acclaim that translated into a big break in ratings; we are left to wonder whether such a show like this, a heavy serialised one at that, can survive in this particular global political climate. Manifest shows us a lot about the human condition, and brings issues of hope, redemption, do-overs and second chances, all to the fore, as this drama, with actors Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh, is arguably one of my favourite new pilots I’ve watched in years, ever since Legends of Tomorrow in the beginning of 2016.
So let’s back up a little bit. The premise for Manifest is as follows (I’ll keep it brief for anyone who may have snuck in a look at this review of the TV show even before they watched it themselves!)- brother and sister Ben and Michaela Stone (played by Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh respectively!), along with Ben’s son Cal, decide to take a later flight back from a holiday because of overcrowding and overbooking on the initial plane flight, while the rest of their family (Ben’s wife, Cal’s twin sister Olive, and Ben and Michaela’s parents) board the initial flight back to their home destination. When the three (Ben, Michaela, Cal) board flight 828 and experience a moment of extreme turbulence, the flight travels onto their destination, as if nothing ever happened. But when the plane touches down at the intended arrival point, everyone on the plane (passengers, cockpit crew, flight attendants) is informed by police and security that 5 and a half years have passed, that everyone who was on the plane were all missing and dead…till now. But then here’s the kicker- all the people on the plane (inclusive of Ben, Michaela and Cal haven’t aged a day, nor have they felt like 5 years has passed at all!). When they are reunited with their family, they start to realise that things aren’t as ‘normal’ as when they boarded their flights home. Cal’s twin sister Olive is now grown up to appear 5 years older than Cal, while Michaela’s boyfriend/fiancé has moved on with her best friend. Michaela and Ben’s mother passed away during the time they were away, while Ben’s wife Grace has seemingly moved on into another relationship (though it is cryptic to the viewers); and has been finding the appropriate and right time to tell her husband of her predicament. Even Cal’s predicament has changed very much- with Ben’s son being diagnosed with fatal cancer, since coming back in 2018, we see a new experimental drug on the market that has the possibility to ‘cure’ the cancer that Cal has, all because of research that was ‘saved’ on the iCloud by a passenger on the same flight as Cal, Ben, Michaela and the rest of them- all prior to the mid-flight turbulence.
And it is in these changes where Ben, Michaela and Cal begin to adjust to life, different to how they know it. All the while the overarching mystery of where the passengers were during the 5 years, and why they haven’t aged a single day, is brewing in the background. And as we watch this pilot episode, questions start to arise- if it were us, if we were in the same predicament that Ben and co. were in, in the show (I know there’s no such thing as time travel but let’s pretend for the sake of the question that we can experience such things), how would we cope? What could we undertake, had we been given a second chance like Ben and Michaela? How would we adjust to the new world we are in? if things around us have changed so much, would we even want to accept our new normal, or are we willing to fight for what we once had, even if now, it’s only a flickering candle, or a fading memory?
Futuristic time-travel like event-style dramas with a touch of a family focus, are not a new thing. Shows like The Event, V, Revolution, The 4400, even to some extent This is Us (considering that much of Manifest is a family drama a la This is Us) have all been varying amounts of success over the years, and so for a drama like Manifest to come within the view of the current times of 2018, we all ought to sit back and wonder- is this show adding to the constant and unnecessary noise that many TV shows seemingly add towards, or is it actually having something interesting and good to say? Much of these high-concept shows of the past have debuted strong to great ratings and then have crashed and burned as time went on (see V and Revolution ratings for an example of this), so I am cautiously optimistic that Manifest doesn’t follow the trend of such shows gone before. Nevertheless, actors Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh have created the characters of Ben and Michaela with much grace and poignancy, as these two characters, are in my opinion, the strongest out of all of them, on Manifest. And it shows- Josh is previously of Once Upon a Time fame, while Melissa’s filmography stems from shows like Valor, and movies like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Nevertheless, regardless of the acting skills of the people involved, the story itself is as intriguing, intentional, and even needed in this current society, and for that reason alone, Manifest ought not to be missed, even if the show is only watched once. For so much similarity to Lost and many disaster-style TV shows I’ve aforementioned before, what Manifest has that much of its predecessors don’t have is a sense of being grounded in reality. Not the coming back after 5 years part, but rather, Manifest does make me remember back when the Malaysian Flight MH 370’s disappearance went into effect in 2014. While much of the show is fiction (see the time travel forward in time concept), the parts that are very much grounded in reality (the coming back after a long period of absence and trying to adjust back into reality, missing aeroplane flights) is what I reckon will encourage viewers to return to watching the show, as the weeks and months progress into the future.
‘…each episode is its own animal. Most episodes feature a passenger from the plane. The characters we met in the pilot, beyond our core family, those people feature more prominently in the early episodes. Saanvi, whose research we discover is pivotal in Cal’s recovery, continues to remain an important part of our story. And so, too, will other people: the flight attendant and the Jamaican musician will feature predominantly. The pilot of the flight, Captain Daly, will continue to be an important part of the series. And others take on varying degrees of importance in the early episodes. But our family, Ben and Michaela, that remains front and center throughout the series. We’ll always be telling stories through their point of view…’ Manifest itself is a very high concept drama, and while I myself have high hopes for such a drama like this, I do know very well that high-concept dramas tend to get shafted by network TV by the wayside, dying deaths prematurely after one season or two. With shows like Agents of Shield, Chuck, Lost, The X Files, Designated Survivor, The Good Place, and every show in the Arrowverse, being shows I reckon that have been part of a group of ‘high concept’ TV shows that have had a myriad of success ranges throughout the years, Manifest also adds into such a group, with the show itself bleeding together mystery, conspiracy and family drama together, and fitting together the pieces of the different genres, quite uniquely as well.
Will such a show like this survive to season 2? Only time will tell. So, what are we waiting for? Watch Manifest once at least, and make up your mind…or just keep watching the show (if you’ve already seen it), and know that a show like this can still nevertheless ask deep, thoughtful and impacting questions of our own lives as well as shedding light about what is really important in life- family and connection, especially after such a life altering event such as the one described in the show. Being pitted against ABC’s The Good Doctor and CBS’s Bull in the Monday 10pm hour, I suspect NBC’s Manifest to keep attracting more and more viewers in the upcoming months. Here’s hoping NBC adds different TV genres (Manifest’s included) come May next year when shows are renewed and/or cancelled at the end of each TV season, rather than just more and more Chicago-like shows. Til next time, now I’m off to watch more sci-fi-mystery shows that I haven’t really caught up with, as or yet…Agents of Shield, here I come!
RIYL: Lost, V, Revolution, The Event, This is Us, The 4400
Manifest airs every Monday at 10/9c on NBC.