TV Review: ‘Manifest’ Might Be the Dumbest Pilot You’ve Ever Seen


There are plenty of reasons to think that “Lost” will remain an iconic show. Many of the actors on the series have not really broken out in the years that followed. This made them very much an iconic part of the series during its run. On top of that, Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams created and ran the show while they were on the rise. “Lost” inspired many to try the mystery premise, and “Manifest” comes almost a decade later. The new mystery for NBC might be the most ridiculous, insane, and laughably bad show of the pilot season, but it will certainly intrigue you to no end.

Like “Lost,” “Manifest” follows the people who boarded a mysterious flight. After the group, headlined by Melissa Roxburgh and Josh Dallas, experience turbulence they safely land outside of New York. That’s when they’re told by government officials that their plane disappeared for five years. Their families are happy to see them, but obviously much has changed in the years since their disappearance. While no one on the plane aged (in fact it just felt like a normal flight to them), members of their friends and family moved on and grew up.

The premise and concept seem fine. However, the way in which the show utilizes overly melodramatic moments and then doubles down on its absurd storytelling makes it among the weirdest pilots I’ve ever seen. The dialogue becomes downright cringe-worthy. The show actually begins with a “you may think this looks like a happy family, but beneath the surface, we’re all miserable” monologue. The actors commit to the bits, but it comes off as absurd. There’s no doubt that the sizzle reel will make some commit, but it gets comically bad, comically fast.

Many network shows suffer from the “yes and…” complex one performs in improv. The idea is that you take and idea and continue to build out to add more absurdity. This makes the concept even funnier in the process. With “Manifest” the idea of a plane gone missing for five years without those on board realizing it would be enough. The “yes and…” moment, as it turns out, might be that they have superpowers of some kind. All of them begin to hear voices, telling them to perform some actions. Not only do they hear voices, but if they do not listen to the voices, it becomes physically painful for them.

This idea reveals itself early when Roxburgh tells her brother, played by Dallas. His response? Keep that to yourself, we don’t want to end up in an insane asylum. It’s a real “Pa Kent” moment from “Man of Steel,” and Dallas’s overly dramatic tone does not help. Roxburgh continues to showcase how upset she is because apparently she killed someone in a car accident and continues to feel guilty about it. She blows up on her former fiancee, now married to her best friend (who we never meet), because of the accident. It comes from basically nowhere but we have to roll with it.

We also come back to the number 828 on numerous occasions. The flight was number 828. A Bible verse that Roxburgh and Dallas’s mother liked to repeat is chapter 8, verse 28. Roxburgh and Dallas break out dogs from an 828 street address. The fascination with the number is quickly exposed and should continue for the foreseeable future. Sadly, there’s little reason to care. With an over-dramatic premise, actors overselling their material, and many laughably bad twists and turns, there’s not much reason to be excited about “Manifest.” Yet, it might be fun to tune in for the trainwreck.

What did you think of the “Manifest” pilot? Will you stick with the show? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

“Manifest” airs on NBC on Monday nights. 

GRADE: (★)