Review: Manifest 1×1 (US: NBC)

Not even half as interesting as Department S


In the US: Mondays, NBC, 10/9c
In the UK: Not yet acquired

With some shows, it’s a bit hard to work out what exactly they’re knocking off, they’re so derivative and unoriginal.

Initially, you might be tempted with Manifest to think the show is knocking off Lost, seeing as it has a plane disappearing in mysterious circumstances, forcing its passengers to come together and forge bonds. There are even mysterious numbers associated with the plane that the passengers keep seeing reoccurring around the place.

But it’s not Lost. For one thing, the plane doesn’t crash.

Perhaps it’s emulating one of the Lost knock-offs of yore then, maybe FlashForward. You see, in Manifest, the plane takes off in 2013, passes through some turbulence, then lands in 2018, its passengers not a day older. Meanwhile, the world outside has marched on five years – relatives have died, fiancés have moved on and children have grown up. No one knows what’s happened, not the passengers, not the FBI agents who investigate it.

But it’s not FlashForward, since they get stuck there and don’t get to go back to the past to let everyone knows what happened.

So maybe it’s another Lost knock-off – say, Six Degrees. After all, some of the passengers are linked in mysterious ways – one woman (Parveen Kaur) is a medical researcher who just manages to send off her data before the plane enters strange turbulence. When the plane lands, her research has already been turned into a life-saving cure for leukaemia. Which is fortunate as one of the other passengers on the plane is a child with leukaemia who had only six months to live. If he’d not gone on the flight, he’d be dead in 2018, but now he stands a chance at remission.

But it’s not Six Degrees, which only ever sought to imply that people were only ever six degrees of connectedness away from each other. Here, Manifest has a dual meaning: it’s both the manifest of the plane and a reference to destiny. Because the passengers are hearing voices telling them what to do. In particular, unlucky in love cop Melissa Roxburgh keeps hearing a voice telling her to “set them free”. Can it be those dogs she keeps seeing? Or is something related to a kidnapping case her ex is now investigating?

Got it. Special powers? Mysterious return of strangers? Time travel? An other worldly force? It’s The 4400, isn’t it, just with a lot fewer people? Phew. Glad I worked that out.

Here’s the trailer for Manifest and if you liked that, there’s the whole first act of it afterwards, too.


Remarkably unremarkable

To its credit, by the end of the first episode, Manifest has made it pretty clear that something is responsible for all of this and whatever it is, it’s solid enough that it doesn’t want the FBI investigating what it’s been up to. That at least means we can expect something a bit different from either Touched by an Angel or Department S‘s pilot episode, Six Days, when it comes to an explanation.

It also means that we don’t have to be too worried about “God did it” and other easy get-outs.

Yet at the same time, there’s nothing yet concrete enough for us to really get attached to. Voices that know the future and want to help us can be pretty much anything, so can also be nothing when it comes to our caring about what’s going on.

It’s also clear that most of the drama is going to involve Roxburgh doing cop things and the rest of the cast trying to work out who waited for them and who had affairs in their absence. Yes, there’s just a hint of This is Us in Manifest, too, as we’re supposed to get all teary-eyed at the break-ups and the obvious emotional manipulation of a small child getting cured of leukaemia (probably). It’s a miracle!

The characters are blah. There’s Roxburgh and her relatives. Roxburgh is a generic commitment-phobic cop who doesn’t play by the rules. Her brother (Josh Dallas) is a generic dad who works too much and doesn’t pay enough attention to his family until he’s made to realise what he’s missing. The children are generic children. Indian medical researcher is a generic Indian medical researcher. No one else yet even has a personality and arguably most of the main characters don’t either.

MANIFEST — “Pilot” — Pictured: (l-r) Josh Dallas as Ben Stone, Jack Messina as Cal Stone — (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/NBC/Warner Brothers)

Mysteriously unmysterious

So we have a show with a central mystery that can only be explained by science fiction (shut up, Jason King), so could be anything at this point ranging from the vampire zombies of the Seventh Galaxy to the guys from Travelers trying to stop the world from ending. We don’t have enough clues to care or to excite us intellectually. I was actually more interested in wondering why the worldwide reaction to an obvious example of time travel is little more than a ‘news in brief’ during primetime.

At the same time, we have a bunch of characters who can only make us care by resorting to generic stock plot points. It’s entirely understandable that everyone else has moved on with their lives – what were the producers expecting us to expect?

All of which makes the first episode of Manifest remarkably unremarkable and mysteriously unmysterious. I vaguely want to know what the cause of everything is; I vaguely want to know what happens to everyone now I’ve been introduced to them. But not a lot.

Maybe that’ll change in episode two, maybe it won’t, but this isn’t exactly a show putting its best foot forward. To be honest, I’d rather watch a re-run of Department S. Wouldn’t you?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.