Much like the passengers of Flight 828, you think you know where this is going. A plane takes off from Jamaica on April 7, 2013, with 191 souls aboard, vanishes without a trace for five and a half years, and then reappears, with its passengers and crew none the wiser that anything unusual has taken place, as it comes in for a landing at JFK in November 2018. It’s The 4400, but in Queens. It’s Lost, but the jungle is concrete. It’s The Leftovers, but if all the raptured had turned back up at the end of the pilot and winked.
But Manifest, which premiered Monday on NBC, doesn’t appear to be any of these things. The show seems much less interested in exploring the sci-fi mystery of the disappearance than in exploring a newly mystical present, wherein our 191 returnees suddenly start hearing voices compelling them to carry out acts of heroism (save a child running into traffic, save a child with cancer, save two children from a kidnapper, etc.). A Damon Lindelof enigma this is not. Manifest is a gosh-dang superhero show.
Sure, some of the Cast Away beats are there. In the years since Flight 828 vanished, older relatives died, significant others moved on, and—worst of all—giggling children transformed into reproachful teens. Also, President Donald Trump. There’s a lot to catch up on! And people—including, first and foremost, the U.S. government—very reasonably have questions.
Yet it doesn’t seem like the show is going to waste much time looking for answers; the plane itself goes kaput at the end of the first episode and so too, hopefully, all the questions about mechanics. Well, most of the questions. Our lead survivor, Michaela (Valor’s Melissa Roxburgh), voice-overs us into finding a critical Bible verse, from Romans, ahem, 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are calling according to His purpose.” His purpose! Work together for good! Love God! You get it.
Basically, though, it’s this: Our motley crew of survivors is blessed with magical powers now, and so we can get on with the dogoodering. This is more Heroes than Lost.
Oh, did I mention that it’s a network drama? Everyone is a little too hot, a little too young, and a little too dramatic; the writing is the sort that gives you lines like “funny how one little decision can ruin your life—but also save it.” It’s fun!
Should You Watch It? If you’re looking for a righteous and medium-cheesy drama, dive right in. It’s something of a low-calorie Daredevil serial with no real villains to speak of (yet!), plus a sprinkling of Touched by an Angel morality.
That Sounds … Boring? Nah. It’s cut with enough drama from outside the sphere of the inevitable monster-of-the-week salvation stuff to build up the stakes: Michaela, for one, plays a cop who was apparently accused of murder (?!?), while Athena Karkanis—playing Michaela’s sister-in-law, Grace, who’s keeping some secrets from her just-returned husband, Ben—seems like an early standout. Plus, with 191 different people convening with this elusive higher power, there’s a good chunk of possible source material.
So Where Did the Plane Go? If the Manifest crew knows what’s good for ’em, they won’t say a word.