×

TV Review: ‘Manifest’ on NBC

NBC's time-travel genre series may be messy, but it has more on its mind than many fall entries

“Funny how one little decision can ruin your life… but also save it.”

So intones Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh) as she makes the fateful decision to split up with most of her traveling party at the start of NBC’s “Manifest.” She, her brother (Josh Dallas) and his son (Jack Messina) end up aboard a flight that experiences a bit of severe turbulence before landing in New York — five years after its scheduled arrival. All the passengers on Montego Air Flight 828 had been presumed dead, leaving the rest of the family to evolve without them. And they seem to have returned with special powers, a sort of second sight enabling them to prevent and solve crimes.

All of which adds up to a “Lost” look-alike that, while it lacks the vision evident in ABC’s classic from its earliest moments, is better than it could be. There’s plenty of grade-A corn here, as when Michaela pieces together that the flight number is shared by a Bible verse needlepointed on her pillow (it’s Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good”), or when she returns to work… as a cop and is able to put her newfound gifts to use. “Manifest” crams a lot of show into its pilot, touching on religion without, exactly, being motivated by a believer’s fervor and building in a crime story that lacks much tension. (We already know by the time Michaela cracks the case that the voice speaking in her head has all the answers.)

And yet the ambition on display is admirable. “Manifest” is brazenly emotional in the “This Is Us” mold, unafraid to nod at the real toll of missing five years of life — parents and partners lost, grief for time’s passage felt in a wave — even as it lays the groundwork for a somewhat cracked procedural. And it builds real tension into the pre-landing sequence as the pilots fail to recognize the twist of fate the show’s marketing has already revealed. It passes at least one test, making us care about its story even as we might otherwise be waiting for it to pick up steam.

Had it premiered during “Lost’s” run, “Manifest” would have seemed like more of the same, yet another show constructing a fictional supernatural crisis to afflict a band of good-looking unfortunates. But against a somewhat moribund fall network slate, it feels like the best kind of throwback: A show made with craft and attention to detail, even as its details are daffily indulgent. A true puzzle-box show of the sort that cable and streaming — with series like “Westworld” and the forthcoming “Maniac” — have lately made work so well ought to have a home on broadcast. The pilot of “Manifest” doesn’t pretend to have answers; it only poses questions. But its inquisitiveness and willingness to be bold and fairly uncynical given all the things it’s trying to be is more than welcome.

Drama (one watched for review): NBC, Mon. Sept. 24, 10 p.m. E.T.

Executive Producers: Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke, Jeff Rake, and Jackie Levine

Cast: Melissa Roxburgh, Josh Dallas, Athena Karkanis, J.R. Ramirez, Luna Blaise, Jack Messina, and Parveen Kaur

TV Review: 'Manifest' on NBC

More TV

  • A.P. BIO -- Pilot -- Pictured:

    'A.P. Bio' Revived for Forthcoming NBCUniversal Streaming Service

    “A.P Bio” has made the grade after all, with NBCUniversal reviving the comedy for its unnamed, still-unlaunched streaming service. The NBC series, which ran for two seasons before getting canceled, performed well online, according to the network, with ratings showing a long tail on streaming platforms as new viewers came to the show late. Nearly [...]

  • Jeffrey Epstein

    'Morning Joe' Airs Archival Footage Linking Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump

    President Donald Trump told reporters recently that he hasn’t spoken to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein in more than a decade and that he was “never a fan” of the one-time banking wunderkind and accused sex-trafficker. But footage aired Wednesday morning on “Morning Joe” appears to suggest some of what Trump said wasn’t accurate. The footage [...]

  • Veronica Mars -- "Spring Break Forever"

    'Veronica Mars' Team Talks Leaning Into Noir Mystery for Hulu Series

    After three seasons on broadcast television in the mid-aughts, followed by a fan-funded feature film, “Veronica Mars” is heading to Hulu with an eight-episode standalone season and, most importantly, a new mystery. “I don’t want it to be a nostalgia show,” creator Rob Thomas tells Variety. “Kristen [Bell] says she would do it until it’s [...]

  • Alicia Keyes Kyle Jarrow

    Alicia Keys, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul to Exec Produce Showtime Musical Drama

    There’s music in the air for Showtime. The premium cable network has made a series commitment to a yet-to-be-titled musical drama series executive produced by Alicia Keys, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The series, which will be produced by Fox 21 Television Studios, “traverses generations to tell an emotionally complex family story that interweaves modern-day [...]

  • ‘Eisenhorn’ Series Based on ‘Warhammer 40,000’

    ‘Eisenhorn’ Series Based on ‘Warhammer 40,000’ in the Works From Frank Spotnitz

    “Eisenhorn,” a live-action series based on the “Warhammer 40,000” game and books is in the works. “The X-Files” exec producer Frank Spotnitz will be showrunner. His shingle, Big Light, has teamed with Games Workshop, which owns “Warhammer 40,000” to develop the property. Billed as a genre-bending sci-fi and fantasy series, “Eisenhorn” is set in the [...]

  • gordon-ramsay-masterclass-review

    Gordon Ramsay and Studio Ramsay Return to WME for Representation

    Superstar TV chef Gordon Ramsay has returned to WME for representation after eight years with CAA. WME will represent Ramsay and his production company, Studio Ramsay, in all areas. Ramsay is one of the most recognizable names in the culinary world after establishing himself as a TV star in the U.K. and U.S. Studio Ramsay [...]

  • Daphne Oz leaving the chew

    Fox Renews 'MasterChef Junior,' Adds Daphne Oz as Judge

    “MasterChef Junior” will return for an eighth season with new judge Daphne Oz. Oz will replace Christina Tosi on the judges’ panel, joining chefs Gordon Ramsay and Aaron Sanchez to crown the next winner in the new season. In the upcoming season, the young contestants will cook up meals at locations including a renaissance fair [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content