September 25, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Manifest”


MANIFEST:  Mondays 10PM on NBC

Of all the Lost rip-offs we’ve seen over the years, NBC’s MANIFEST seems from its pilot to be the laziest, and perhaps the worst.  Creator Jeff Rake (he has the eminently forgettable The Mysteries of Laura to his credit) has replaced the dense mythology of Lost with a set-up so simple as to be simple-minded.  This time, when a passenger jet takes off from Jamaica to New York, its passengers experience the trip as an ordinary flight (with one quick burst of turbulence), but when it lands, more than five years have passed on the ground.  That’s it, except that some of the passengers, at least, start experiencing Touched By An Angel (or God Friended Me)-type voices in their heads, urging them to take actions that turn out to be good deeds, such as saving children from oncoming buses, or rescuing a kidnapped family.  Rake’s script explicitly assigns a religious aspect to this.

Whatever may be said about the latter days of Lost, it was riveting entertainment for years, not just because of its ingenious plotting and often brilliantly executed structure, but due to its compelling set of characters.  That’s not the case with Manifest.  Our lead is troubled NYPD cop Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh), who deplanes to find out that her boyfriend has, during the years of her absence, married her best friend.  Michaela’s brother Ben (Josh Dallas), who was on the flight with his leukemia-stricken son Cal (Jack Messina), is happy to discover a cure for Cal came about during the interim–invented before take-off by another passenger, Saanvi (Parveen Kaur)–but will be less delighted when he finds out that his wife Grace (Athena Karkanis) has been seeing someone else while he was gone.  These characters are all rudimentary, and none of the performances bring any special spark to the material.  The script is forced to resort to Michaela’s awkward voice-overs to express any promise at all of future plot twists, however ham-handed (“And as for the group of us, this was just the beginning”).

Manifest lacks the visual thrills we associate with fantasy thrillers as well.  Even with a pilot budget, director David Frankel is unable to obscure the fact that the NY-set show is shot in Canada, and the biggest thrill is a badly-CG’d sequence of the aircraft self-destructing while on the ground.  The rest is purely functional.

Despite its post-The Voice regular season timeslot, Manifest has the feel of a summer series that found itself in the big leagues.  Even with its serialized storyline and developing mysteries, it offers little reason to stay tuned and find out more.  That plane isn’t the only thing to blow up in the opening episode.




About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."