HomeTelevisionReview: NBC's Manifest Fails to Take Flight

Review: NBC’s Manifest Fails to Take Flight

Manifest NBC
Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC

Manifest Series Premiere, ‘Pilot’ Plot Summary:

On a flight from Jamaica to New York, Montego Air Flight 828 experiences turbulence and power failure before safely landing hours later.  Upon landing, the passengers and crew learn that five and a half years have passed since their departure. Returning home, the passengers discover much has changed during their inexplicable absence, including the passengers themselves.

Many ideas are often better in theory than in practice. For any host of reasons, the idea can’t bridge the gap between a pitch and a pilot. Call it failure to launch, if you’d like. What remains is a disappointing realization of what could have been or a sobering acceptance that the idea itself was never going to succeed.

Thus, we enter NBC’s newest drama, Manifest. Outside of inevitable comparisons to Lost, Manifest boasts a fairly intriguing premise: a plane goes missing for years and finally returns, though only a few hours have passed for those people on board. Promising, right? Unfortunately, it becomes incredibly clear during the course of the first episode that the premise is truly the only robust element of the show and that the foundation of the drama is otherwise woefully weak.

So much of these shortcomings fall squarely on the writers. The pacing of the pilot is dreadfully fast and relies so heavily on exposition that it quickly becomes apparent that Manifest has no real interest or grasp on its characters.  The cardinal rule of storytelling is “show, don’t tell,” and Manifest defies that tenet immediately because the writers are too impatient to get to the show’s interesting premise. As a result, the characters are paper-thin and impossible to care for. Even after the plane lands and the mystery begins, the episode repeats its original sin in every scene. All telling, no showing.

There are moments of promise, like the passengers’ interviews with law enforcement and their initial reunions with their loved ones. But the show bulldozes right through them without even looking back and skirts by potentially fascinating scenes at full speed. The actors have nothing to work with besides melodrama, exposition, and reactions to their disappearance.

Why should we care about these characters? Because they were on the mysterious flight. What is the most interesting aspect of each character? They were on the mysterious flight. What do we most want to learn about the characters? What happened to them on the mysterious flight.

Such a single-minded, circular approach to storytelling is unsustainable.  It’s sloppy. And it’s not worth your time.

RATING:  5.5 OUT OF 10

Manifest airs Monday nights on NBC.

Josh Sarnecky
Josh Sarnecky
Josh Sarnecky is one of Pop Break's staff writers and covers Voltron: Legendary Defender, Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things. His brother, Aaron, also writes for the website, but Josh is the family’s reigning Trivial Pursuit: Star Wars champion.

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