Third-episode verdict: Manifest (US: NBC)

Still not even half as good as Department S

Manifest

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

The secret to any show based around a central mystery is that both the central mystery and the quest for its solution has to be interesting. Manifest, which is by equal measures a knock-off of Lost, The 4400, FlashForwardSix Degrees and The Whispers, just about manages to make both of these things interesting. Just about.

The show sees a whole bunch of people – some strangers to each other, some not – take off on a plane journey in 2013 and land in  the US in 2018. Time hasn’t passed at all for them, but for everyone else on Earth, time has passed normally and everyone has got on with their lives, assuming their loved ones died in a plane crash five years earlier.

On top of that, 20 or so of the mysteriously returned passengers start hearing voices telling them what to do, and when they do as bidden, it turns out the voices do know what they’re talking about. Principally, unlucky in love cop Melissa Roxburgh and her brother Josh Dallas end up solving crimes together, often through bizarre coincidences, usually accompanied by the frequent reappearance of their flight number, 828, in everyday life.

Manifest

What?

The central mystery, of course, is what happened to the plane. Hints so far have been reassuringly secular. Although the first episode suggests that there is some element of predestination involved, with Dallas’ kid gaining access to a life-saving leukaemia treatment that wasn’t available in 2013, but is in 2018, thanks to another one of the plane’s passengers, for example. But, it’s become clear over these first three episodes that something else is at work, something (literally) shadowy and potentially even malevolent. All of which suggests either aliens or time travellers, doing their best to fix some wrongs in their past using their foreknowledge.

Which could be cool. Or it could still be God and his angels versus Satan and his evil minions. Which could be cool, but a bit stupid in context. Or it could be something else made-up and not very cool at all.

At the moment, it’s just about cool enough that it’s enough to sustain my interest. It’s being dripped out quickly enough that I’m not feeling too impatient, and although everything about the drama and this central idea is clichéd, particularly the possibly evil NSA investigators, it’s still done just about smartly enough than my curiosity is still piqued.

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

Who?

As I predicted in my review of the first episode, however, most of each episode is taken up with the random cop dramas instigated by the voices, as well as the soapy soapiness of people trying to cope with the fact that their loved ones might have moved on, twin sisters have grown up, parents have died and children have gone to jail. You do feel like telling everyone to suck it up and get on with it a lot, every episode.

Despite the ensemble cast and characters, there’s also nobody who’s actually really any good or watchable among the lot of them: the characters are unremarkable and tedious, there’s not one good line per episode, and the actors have so little of note to work with, you could have Mark Rylance and Benedict Cumberbatch read the scripts to you and you’d still barely remember it. There’s no Mark Rylance or Benedict Cumberbatch in this cast, mind.

All of which makes Manifest a show I can’t recommend to anyone. There’s no point to watching this show, unless you happen to like a slightly sci-fi crime procedural in which everything gets solved thanks to some help from some voices.

However, unfortunately, I’ve now watched three episodes, and there’s been just enough interest kindled in me by them that I’m going to stick with it for a while. To be fair, that’s more than FlashForward managed, but I doubt I’ll make it for a full Lost run. Then again, I doubt Manifest itself will make it that far, either.

Barrometer rating: 4

The Barrometer for Manifest