'Manifest' review roundup: NBC pilot "doesn't pretend to have answers it only poses questions"
Starring Melissa Roxburgh, Josh Dallas, and Athena Karkanis, the series follows passengers of a plane, which returns after going off the radar for 5 years
On Monday night's premiere marathons, where old and long-running sitcoms have taken a tumble in terms of TV ratings, high-concept dramas have quietly slipped into viewer's must-watch list. NBC's latest missing plane mystery, 'Manifest' opened to soaring numbers, garnering an average viewership of 10.3 million and a respectable 2.2 rating in the 18-49 demographic.
Starring Melissa Roxburgh (Michaela Stone), Josh Dallas (Ben Stone), Athena Karkanis (Grace Stone), and Parveen Kaur (as Saanvi Bahl), the series follows the 191 passengers and crew of Montego Air Flight 828.
After what is supposed to be a brief (but otherwise regular) turbulence, the plane makes a safe landing only to reveal that over five years have gone by during the period when the flight went off the radar.
Against the backdrop of this plane mystery, 'Manifest' adeptly sets up an emotional family and relationship drama as the survivors recuperate in the aftermath of their reunion. Things are especially difficult for the near and dear ones who presumed that the passengers were actually dead during this whole time when the flight had mysteriously disappeared.
Given the context and the premise of a missing plane, naturally, comparisons with the cult-favorite 'The Lost' are expected. Here's a quick look at what the critics have to say about the season premiere of the NBC drama:
"Manifest has a decent enough hook, and NBC making the first 10 minutes available online way early was smart, since the David Frankel-directed opening gets to the premise fast and speaks to all sorts of resonant fears and uncertainties — be they from Lost or from a real world in which Malaysia Airlines 370 remains an unsolved disappearance. It's where the pilot goes from there and then a lack of subsequent episodes to review that leaves me with more than a few doubts. Maybe we'll meet all of the cool characters and the complicated narrative twists in the second episode?" writes The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg.
Daniel D'addario from Variety suggests, "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 '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."
"Manifest also has little interest in the wider world or culture. Imagine boarding a plane while Barack Obama was still in office, then getting off of it and finding out, oh, it’s five years later and by the way, Donald Trump is president. Obviously you would be reeling on a variety of fronts, but that, along with other cultural changes — the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage? Prince died? — would be a real mind-blower. There’s never a sense that any character’s mind is truly blown by what’s happening in Manifest," adds Jen Chaney of Vulture.
Kevin Yeoman of Screen Rant opines, "To its credit, Manifest diligently sets out to construct its mystery, beginning with another flight, this time, Montego Air 828. After experiencing some abrupt but otherwise innocuous turbulence during its trip to New York, Montego Air 828 lands five years after its initial takeoff, leaving everyone on board presumed dead and the plane’s whereabouts a complete mystery. That mystery should deepen as the pilot goes on, but Manifest quickly gets distracted by other, less interesting mysteries."
"At times, it seems to be straining for This Is Us-style emotional moments, only to fall well short. It is reassuring to see Robert Zemeckis’ name as an executive producer — he has a knack for humane, sci-fi-infused stories like these — but outside of the catchy premise, his presence isn’t really felt in the premiere," TV Line's Dave Nemetz adds.