You’ll like if you already like: The Event, FlashForward, The Crossing…
Likely timeslot: Monday at 10 or midseason
Manifest is the perfect example of a waste of a good concept and coming from Robert Zemeckis as an executive producer, it’s even more disappointing. I can’t say I’m surprised, there’s literally no buzz for this pilot since it’s been ordered and the cast they assembled is very weak. I mean no disrespect but when you choose Josh Dallas as your leading man, it means you have a problem somewhere. Even worse: he’s the most famous one here! “Network + High-concept” is probably seen as a recipee for disaster by actors and their agents nowadays and for good reasons. So when your script is not even convincing, you can’t expect much. My theory is simple: Warner Bros. made a strong pitch for Manifest, every network wanted it, NBC won it for a large chunk of money and had to go with a put pilot commitment, and then they had no choice but to order it no matter what. They probably regret it… But hey, maybe I’m totally wrong. Maybe they love it and will give it the best slot they have next year! Who knows at this point?
First, remember ABC also had a similar concept in the works this pitch season, that resonated better with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the South China Sea more than three years ago. Because that’s probably where those ideas came from. Flight 410, that’s how it was called, was described like this: “after a commercial flight vanishes over the Atlantic Ocean, a disgraced journalist whose wife was on the plane is driven to solve the mystery as he leads an unconventional group with other family members left behind”. It’s a simpler version of Manifest, with the same “Lost in reverse” vibe. And sometimes, simpler is better. Because the problem here is not the plane disappearing or the search for the truth but the fantasy part. The problem is right here, in this precise line: “No time has passed for those on the plane but, for their loved ones at home, a long five years have gone by.” We’re suddenly in Lost meets Resurrection and it’s not a territory we want to explore.
I don’t know if the writer, Jeff Rake, already knows the answer about this mystery -It’d be better if he does- but that simply can’t be answered with a reasonable, scientific or pseudo-scientific explanation. And it creates awkward and predictable and useless moments between the characters. What if they aged too? What if 5 years have gone by for them too? There’d still be the mystery of the sudden departure and it’d be just enough. And oh so you know, the script suggests that the characters are now connected by an invisible force that has a voice that speaks in their heads telling them to do things that help saving other people. Like Michaela warning a bus driver to slow down before hitting a child. It’s uninteresting and already too much! And there’s more! While Michaela visits her old boyfriend, a now married cop, she learns of two children who were abducted. Eventually the voice leads her to rescue the children… Damn. So we’re gonna get a rescue every damn week on top of that?
Also they worked hard to make it a family fare, which is quite an odd fit with the initial thriller concept. I don’t see parents watching this show with their children honestly. So yeah, it’s mostly about a family, the Stark family –Game of Thrones‘ fans are shook- who just wrapped up their family vacation to Jamaica in April 2013. It’s composed of a suburbanite couple in their thirties Ben & Grace and their 10 year-old twins Call, a leukemia patient, and Olive, a rambunctious young girl. They’re accompanied by Ben’s sister Michaela, a dissatisfied clerk at the police station who’s haunted by a past car accident where her best friend died while she was driving. Now she’s an alcoholic and her dream of being a policewoman has been derailed. Ben & Michaela’s parents, Steve & Karen, are also in the plane. Due to an oversold flight, Grace, Olive, Steve and Karen all board the early flight home, leaving Ben, Michaela and Cal to take the later flight. On the second flight, they experience turbulence and when they land, it’s October 2018. Of course things have changed a bit since then like Grace now being a teenage nightmare, Grace “having an affair” with a neighbour and Karen being dead. But apart from Michaela, most of the characters here sound like pains in the ass. Reminded me a lot of FlashForward, which had a better concept but with terrible characters mostly.
The best thing that could happen to Manifest is if it suddenly disappeared from pilot season. Come back in 5 years with a better script and a concept tweaked and we’ll see what we can do with you! There’s certainly something to do around this story, with a conspiracy behind and all, but make it realistic and simpler. Until then, please don’t board this plane NBC!