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Take the Trip with 'Manifest'
September 24, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 51 comments

NBC’s new supernatural drama Manifest contains a lot of elements that feel familiar and yet add up to something that feels different.

That’s a good thing, and while Manifest may be a challenging sell to mainstream TV viewers, it looks like it will be fun to watch.

Manifest, which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET, roots itself in time travel. That’s hardly a new subject for prime-time drama, but here the time travel is also the mystery.

Flight 828 from Jamaica, on the fictional Montego Airlines, took what seemed like a routine journey back to New York in 2013. There was a brief spell of serious turbulence, but otherwise, nothing seemed out of the ordinary until the plane landed and was surrounded by a phalanx of law enforcement, government, and emergency personnel.

The reason, we quickly learn, is that the plane has landed in 2018. Five years have passed, during which the 191 people aboard Flight 828 were missing and presumed dead.

The lives of their families and loved one eventually went on. The families and loved ones got five years older. And now these missing people have returned, still at their 2013 age and knowing nothing of, say, iPhone X.

It’s a lot to handle, on both sides, so Manifest starts by focusing on several particular individuals.  

Michaela Beth Stone (Melissa Roxburgh, above) boarded the plane with her brother Ben (Josh Dallas, top) and Ben’s son Cal (Jack Messina, top).

Michaela to that point was best known as the family screw-up. She’s on leave from the police department where she was a cop before an accident involving a car she was driving left a passenger dead.

That accident apparently also made her hesitant to accept a marriage proposal from her fellow cop Jared Williams (J.R. Ramirez), despite her parents’ meddlesome urging.

Ben, conversely, was happily married. His problem was that Cal had been diagnosed with leukemia and time was running out to find a treatment.

So there’s mixed news when they land in 2018. Jared has moved on. So has cancer treatment.

That’s not, however, the main takeaway for Michaela, Ben, Cal or many of the other 188 fliers on Flight 828.

No, other things start happening. Voices, visions, you know, your basic supernatural stuff. This is where Manifest will be taking its central mystery, and presumably in the process getting some sense of exactly what happened during that brief interlude of severe turbulence.

The introductory episode of Manifest does a good job of setting up a story and characters we’d be interested in following.  

It’s also true that the mere use of time travel as the center post of a TV drama tends to limit its potential audience. The gamble for NBC, as for the producers of all supernatural shows, is that those who do watch will become deeply invested, and tell their friends and that in this age of fragmented TV viewership, that will create the right combination of audience size and buzz.

All time-warp shows, of course, are not alike. Manifest starts out more promising than most.

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