A lot of great media begins with an airplane. There is the touching movie “We Are Marshall,” which details the rebuilding of the football program and morale at Marshall University following a plane crash that took the lives of 75 members of the football team. On TV, there is “Lost,” one of the most iconic and well-known shows of all time, due to both its consuming storyline and one of the most infamously confusing finales of all time. There is a lot that a show or movie can do with an airplane. It can tell a harrowing tale of human fear or a heartwarming story of community. It can paint a tear-jerking picture of reunion or show an unlikely character overcoming all odds. Yes, there are endless possibilities when it comes to basing a show off an airplane. “Manifest” takes advantage of none of them.
Following precedent, “Manifest” could’ve been a show about how people adjust after an unexpected, strange occurrence, but instead it takes a different route: superpowers. The main narrator, Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh, “Valor”), is the first to experience a newfound telepathy as she is riding the bus. Her own voice speaks to her, repeating “slow down, slow down.” Michaela relays this message to the bus driver, which prompts him to slow down and avoid hitting a young boy chasing a ball into the street. Her brother Ben (Josh Dallas, “Once Upon a Time”) also hears his own voice, and it is revealed at the end of the episode that the Stone siblings are not the only ones. The episode ends with every person from the flight getting a pain in their head, drawing them to the tarmac the flight is docked at. As they all gather there, watching the plane that changed their lives, the plane blows itself up, emphasizing the supernatural direction “Manifest” plans to take.
On its surface, “Manifest” is an intriguing show. Flight 828 took off from Jamaica in Apr. of 2013. After a spout of rough turbulence, the plane safely landed in New York — on Nov. 4, 2018. None of the passengers were injured, and not a single one aged a day. Even with the slightly ridiculous time warp plot, “Manifest” still sets up enough emotional situations for its characters to redeem itself. Upon landing, the Stone siblings find that in their time missing, their mother has died, Cal’s twin sister is five years older than him and Michaela’s former fiance is married to another woman. Yet everything significant that happens in the first episode ends before it even begins, leaving very little room for the show to develop.
It’s a disorganized story, one that is vaguely interesting to watch but exhausting to follow. “Manifest” is the type of show you may only watch if you were staying home sick from school, or that your mom would DVR to watch later another day with a tall glass of wine. It uses shock factor to set up a story that could have been caused by literally anything else, sucking the story dry of uniqueness or enjoyment. A plane crash is a popular trope used among all forms of media, but the stunt can be overlooked if it is used in a way that creates an iconic piece of art. “Manifest” fails to do this, and thus becomes yet another tacky attempt at exploiting an overused gimmick, with no depth behind it to justify that.