Ellie Hogrebe, Staff Writer
An effective pilot episode for a new television show entices the audience to come back the following week to watch the next installment. It should already be making progress in getting its viewers invested and engaged in the story and characters. By the time the credits roll at the end of a good series premiere, people will be programming their digital video recorder to record the next episode. “Manifest,” a new show from NBC that aired its pilot episode on Sept. 24, fails to accomplish this goal.
This series begins when a plane lands from a flight that seemed normal to the passengers and crew, albeit some brief turbulence. After landing, they are informed that they have been missing for over five years. The story focuses on the Stone family, several of whose members were on board this bizarre flight. Melissa Roxburgh and Josh Dallas star as Michaela and Ben Stone, siblings with a strained relationship that is further tested by their harrowing experience.
The premise of “Manifest” is intriguing. A mysterious plane ride that leads to an unexplained jump in time calls to mind the popular drama series “Lost,” which received a great deal of critical acclaim and a loyal fan following for its gripping storylines and compelling characters. Before the first episode of “Manifest” aired, there was speculation about whether this show would be the new “Lost.” However, “Manifest” suffers in comparison because it presents bland characters and allows its interesting ideas to quickly devolve after the first few minutes of the episode.
After the plane lands, Michaela and Ben, along with Ben’s son Cal who is terminally ill with leukemia, reunite with their family that believed them dead for years. Ben greets his wife and must deal with the fact that his daughter who was a young girl when he left is now a teenager, while Michaela discovers from their father that their mother died a few years earlier.
This should be an emotional moment that works to get the audience more invested in the lives of these characters. However, the interactions between them are trite and they do not convey the extreme emotions of joy and sadness that people would realistically feel in this situation. Here lies one of the main issues from the pilot. The actors did not have believable chemistry as family members with complicated pasts and relationships. The interactions between characters felt forced and mechanical.
As the episode continues, Michaela and Ben struggle to adapt to the changes their five-year absence has wrought on numerous relationships in their lives. Ben must figure out how to make up for the time he lost with his wife and daughter, while Michaela’s former fiancé has married her best friend.
Further complicating matters is their discovery that they have gained inexplicable supernatural abilities, presumably caused by their puzzling jump through time. Unfortunately, this plotline fails to save the episode because the actors are not given material that makes their characters particularly likable or unique. They do not have enough personality, engaging backstory or compelling relationships.
“Manifest” drew me in with an exciting concept for a television show. It was unable to hold my attention after the first few minutes due to a lack of dynamic characters, script or storylines. When it was over, I was not thinking about recording the next episode and I was not anxious to see what would happen next. If you are looking for a show with mystery and doomed planes, you would be better off spending your time rewatching “Lost.”