×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

  • Michelle Dockery Jaeden Martell

    Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell Join Chris Evans in Apple Series 'Defending Jacob'

    “Downton Abbey” alum Michelle Dockery and “IT” star Jaeden Martell have signed on for lead roles in the Apple limited series “Defending Jacob,” Variety has learned. They join previously announced series lead Chris Evans. The series is based on the 2012 best-selling novel of the same name by William Landay. It tells the story of [...]

  • Disney Fox Takeover Placeholder

    Disney, Fox Employees Grapple With Day One Transition on Two Hollywood Lots

    What kind of a boss will Disney be? That’s a question facing employees at 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic Partners, FX Networks, and other assorted parts of Rupert Murdoch’s former media empire. Wednesday was their first full day as staffers of the Walt Disney Co. and the initial moves have done little to [...]

  • 20th Century Fox TV to Adapt

    20th Century Fox TV to Adapt Esi Edugyan Novel 'Washington Black' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Twentieth Television, in conjunction with Sterling K. Brown’s Indian Meadows Productions, Anthony Hemingway Productions and The Gotham Group, has won an intense bidding war for the rights to bring Esi Edugyan’s award-winning novel “Washington Black” to the small screen, Variety has learned exclusively. The novel will be adapted for into a limited series for TV by [...]

  • Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime

    Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime Emmy Nomination

    Facebook is now in the awards hunt: Its popular original series “Red Table Talk” hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith was nominated for a 2019 Daytime Emmy. It appears to be the first-ever Daytime Emmy Awards nomination for a Facebook-funded show, although a company rep was unable to confirm that. “Red Table Talk” is nominated in [...]

  • pharrell brain child show

    Pharrell Teams Up With Atomic Entertainment to Push 'Edu-Tainment' for Kids of Color

    Pharrell Williams may best be known as a Grammy-winning musician, but the 45-year-old is singing a different tune these days as the executive producer of “Brainchild,” a new Netflix series that teaches kids about science, technology, and current events. Co-created by Atomic Entertainment, the show is a spinoff of the New York-based production company’s “Brain [...]

  • Issa Rae Michael B. Jordan Actors

    Variety's 'Actors on Actors' Earns Daytime Emmy Nomination

    Variety has earned another Emmy nomination for its “Actors on Actors” series, but the first at the Daytime Emmy Awards. The PBS SoCal series brings together two actors for a candid conversation about their recent roles and thoughts on Hollywood. The nominated season includes interviews with actors promoting their TV projects including: Bill Hader (“Barry”) with [...]

  • 'Call My Agent!' Wins France's Export

    'Call My Agent!' Wins France's Export Prize; Lincoln TV Wins Named Best French Fiction Producer

    “Call My Agent!,” the hit comedy series whose second season recently pulled top ratings on France’s public broadcaster France Televisions and has traveled widely, won the export prize during the French Television Producer Awards gala ceremony organized by Procirep and TV France International. Although “Call My Agent!” was picked up by Netflix for most markets, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content