“Manifest” (10 p.m. Eastern Mondays on NBC) isn’t quite the “What does it all mean?” “Lost”-style mystery I thought it would be. Then again, it’s not exactly original, either. It’s just that the TV shows it reminds me of are different ones than I had assumed.
Created by Jeff Rake (whose favorite credit of mine is an obscure one: “Miss Match”) and Matthew Fernandez, “Manifest” does begin with a Big Idea. A plane from Jamaica goes through turbulence in 2013, then lands safely in New York. But it’s now 2018.
Family relationship drama ensues from this weird situation where those on the plane have time-jumped five years, and those off the plane have had their loved ones returned after five years of being presumed dead.
You know most of the time-displacement oddities from the trailer. An engaged couple, Jared (J.R. Ramirez) and Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh), are now exes, because he has moved on to a new relationship. Michaela’s and Ben’s (Josh Dallas) mom has passed away in the meantime, so they are grieving that loss. On a more positive note, the time-jump has allowed Ben’s and Grace’s (“The Best Years’ ” Athena Karkanis) 9-year-old son Cal a possible new lease on life: Better cancer treatments have emerged in the past five years.
“Manifest” doesn’t treat the time-jump as a mystery that needs to be solved, and this is where it diverges from “Lost,” “The Event,” “The Crossing,” “The Returned” and their ilk. The plane flew through a scientific anomaly where space and time folded, like in “The Langoliers.” Or the time diversion was caused by a higher power – God, karma, the balance of life, call it what you want. The specifics don’t matter.
The show becomes like “Medium” when Michaela realizes she has a superpower: A voice in her head functions as precognition. On the bus, she hears “Slow down!” and she’s compelled to yell that instruction at the driver, who hits the breaks and averts hitting a kid running into the street. As is often the case – see also Cordelia on “Angel” and Frank on “Millennium” — these helpful instructions aren’t always that simple. They are accompanied by a sharp blast of pain, and they could stand to be a little clearer. Hearing “Set them free!,” Michaela frees two dogs from a fenced-in junkyard. But it turns out the higher power wants her to rescue two girls being held deeper in the yard who had the misfortune to be kidnapped after Allison Dubois and “Medium” went off the air.
Michaela’s superpower isn’t a one-off. Her brother Ben admits he has it, too, and then – in a jump forward that feels like the episode was edited for space – we learn that all 191 occupants of the plane have a precognitive voice. So now we realize these folks are like Joan on “Joan of Arcadia” and Kevin on last season’s “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World,” except they’re getting instructions mainlined into their brain rather than being instructed by a supernatural being. Or like the lead of the upcoming “God Friended Me.” In other words, a TV trope, and one that borders on being overdone.
Technically, this pilot episode is solid. The family relationships are genuine. Not a lot of time is spent on the quarantines and the confusion after the plane lands, as if the showrunners know we’ve seen enough stories like this to get the gist.
But we must endure some requisite examples of officialdom, like the doctor who refuses to treat Cal because his case doesn’t fit the parameters. And exes Michaela and Jared are both cops. So by the time all is said and done, “Manifest” has taken a winding journey to being a combined hospital and police procedural. The supernatural trappings are familiar rather than fascinating, and not even presented as a mystery to be solved.
It’s a nice-looking vehicle – maybe even a reliable one for viewers who aren’t tired of these tropes — but for me, “Manifest” doesn’t get off the runway.