Manifest is NOT a good show. In fact, it’s downright bad. Which is what makes it the epitome a guilty pleasure. For those not in the know, Manifest is an NBC supernatural drama, now in its second season and, in my opinion, has its place along with the other religious-centric shows that I’ve been writing about. But as guilty as these pleasures are they are still pleasures, and even more than that, they are perfect for my art purposes. As I said weeks ago, while some people listen to music or podcasts, I watch videos while I do art, and I can’t do that if they’re too good. I’ve tried doing art to the shows Dark, Mindhunter, The Wire and the like, and it’s simply impossible. Either I get too caught up in these shows and don’t get any art done or I can’t follow the show, because I’m too focused on doing art. I’ve learned to choose my shows carefully and I’ve become quite good at figuring out which shows will work or not. Manifest fits this bill to a tee.
If you are unfamiliar with the show, Manifest follows the passengers of Flight 828, a flight that disappears on its return flight from Jamaica and reappears 5 years later. To the passengers themselves, no time has passed and it’s not until they land that they discover that everyone else has considered them dead. This sets up two parallel storylines. One is the mystery of the flight itself; what happened to it, where were they during that lost time, etc. The second is the effect their return has on everyone they left behind. People who were not on the flight have continued to age normally, marriages dissolved and new relationships formed; five years doesn’t sound like a lot until I think about how different my life was that far back. These are both solid plots, but, of course, they’re not enough for the writers and the show adds one more by giving all the passengers psychic powers.
Not cool ones, like Professor X or Martial Manhunter type psychic powers. No, that would be too useful. These are vague visions that plague the passengers, at times, driving them to suicide, that must be deciphered and agonized over. And this is the primary religious aspect of the show. They start calling these visions “callings”, and, while they seem to make little sense, if they have faith and persevere to follow these callings to wherever they lead, then they will be rewarded. Lives are saved, evils punished, wrongs set right. God or religion is never mentioned, but there is a lot of focus on faith, and the overall tone is so “churchy” that I gotta wonder if they have a religious consultant on staff. The core cast begins to recognize a higher power behind these callings and following the direction of this higher power becomes their mission.
All of this is not why the show is so bad, but it doesn’t help. Although the simplistic nature of the show is so heavy handed, a deft writer and a solid cast could potentially allow the story to rise above these short comings. This is not the case. Central to the show is Ben Stone (Josh Dallas of Once Upon a Time and Zootopia), a mathematics professor, who after returning, commits whole heartedly to his role as holy crusader. Unfortunately, he comes off as such a goody two shoes that it’s hard to root for him in his various quests, his over whelming demeaner being self-righteousness. Equally as bad is his son, Cal Stone (Jack Messina of, well, the only other thing he’s been in is an episode of The Marvelous Ms. Maisel), who seems to be more in tune with these visions, this higher power, than anyone else. Not sure how the show runners envisioned him as, but he comes off as the consummate creepy kid, complete with eye-rolling seizures and portents of death. Rounding out the cast is Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Star Trek Beyond and Legends of Tomorrow), Ben’s sister and a New York police detective, Grace Stone (Athena Karkanis of Suits, Zoo and House of Cards), Ben’s wife who was not on the plane and a few others that I frankly can’t be too concerned over.
None of the characters are likable, all overly dramatic and lacking in any sort of logic in their actions. Compounding this is an outlandish story that includes a shadowy government agency and human testing in a secret laboratory, a hiker who survived being trapped in a cave for a year that has a mysterious connection to flight 828 and a cult of worshipers of the passengers of flight 828 that pops up almost overnight. And, with all this, I still can’t stop watching this show. The mystery surrounding these visions, where they will lead and how they came to be in the first place is just too damn compelling. I don’t know why that is! All my criticism is valid. Hell, if you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes yourself, and you’ll ask yourself, what the hell does he see in that show, and I honestly couldn’t tell you. Some have called the show the reverse Lost, a previously lost flight returning home and bringing their mystery with them, and they’re not wrong.
And much like Lost, whose mystery made the first season so addictive, Manifest is at risk of being buried under its own questions, if it goes on long enough. Seriously, as much as I love this type of show, unless some of those mysteries are resolved, it’s going to lose its audience. There’s only so far curiosity is going to hold someone. To anyone looking for an hour (or 43 minutes, if I’m being truthful) of mindless TV fun, it’s worth a look, if only to marvel at how cheesy it is. If you’re looking for the next great television show that will stand the test of time, you may want to give this one a pass.