‘Man­i­fest’ a bumpy ride


Re­demp­tion and sec­ond chances are born of a spooky avi­a­tion mys­tery in NBC’s “Man­i­fest” when a flight from Ja­maica to New York goes miss­ing some­where over the At­lantic and then in­ex­pli­ca­bly touches down at its desti­na­tion 5 1/2 years later — plane, crew and pas­sen­gers in­tact.

Au­thor­i­ties are flum­moxed by the re­turn of Mon­tego Air Flight 828, and so are the 191 souls aboard when they learn it’s 2018. No won­der their Obama-era Black­Ber­rys won’t work.

The flight was un­event­ful, they later tell sus­pi­cious FBI agents, ex­cept for a brief, vi­o­lent bout of turbulence due to a “sud­den weather surge” un­de­tectable by radar. Cue the omi­nous mu­sic … .

The hour­long pi­lot episode, which was to pre­miere Mon­day, ini­tially cap­ti­vates with “Lost”-like puz­zles: Where were they all that time? Why have none of them aged? And the bumpy flight scene is, in­deed, ter­ri­fy­ing (first­hand ad­vice: don’t watch on a plane).

But once on the ground, rote themes of re­demp­tion and faith di­lute an other­wise in­trigu­ing su­per­nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence and leave view­ers with an­other puz­zle to solve: why “Man­i­fest’s” char­ac­ters don’t seem all that in­ter­ested in fig­ur­ing out what the heck hap­pened.

In­stead, pas­sen­gers Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh), her brother Ben (Josh Dal­las) and their loved ones spend a lot of time talk­ing about right­ing wrongs and fix­ing their lives. “The uni­verse just gave all of us a do-over,” mar­vels Ben’s wife, Grace (Athena Karka­nis), while the big­gest mys­tery in the his­tory of mankind looms small in the back­ground.

More in­ter­est­ing is the plight of Ben and Grace’s young son Cal (Jack Messina), who was also on the flight. He has ad­vanced child­hood leukemia; when they left Ja­maica, he had only six months to live. His can­cer did not progress dur­ing the half-decade time lapse, but ef­fec­tive treat­ments for the disease did. Now Cal has a shot at beat­ing the disease.

Per­haps not so co­in­ci­den­tally, the grad­u­ate stu­dent and med­i­cal re­searcher be­hind the med­i­cal break­through, Saanvi (Parveen Kaur), was also on the plane and re­turns to find her work has man­i­fested into a mir­a­cle cure. Did their dis­ap­pear­ance serve a higher pur­pose, and does their new lease on life come with the in­creased re­spon­si­bil­ity of sav­ing oth­ers?

NYPD cop Michaela is start­ing to think so, even though her re­turn from the abyss has been less hope­ful than her brother’s or Saanvi’s. Her fiance, Det. Jared Vasquez (J.R. Ramirez), mar­ried her best friend in her ab­sence, and now she has no love, no job, no apart­ment.

But she’s gained a sixth sense that’s geared to­ward pro­tect­ing oth­ers from harm and worse, and she’s be­gin­ning to think it’s com­ing from a higher power.

“Man­i­fest,” which comes from ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor Robert Ze­meckis, Jack Rapke, Jeff Rake and Jackie Levine, has all the right in­gre­di­ents to de­velop into a sci-fi thriller or per­haps a divine-in­ter­ven­tion drama.

Re­li­gious themes pop in and out of “Man­i­fest.” Min­utes into the pi­lot, Bi­ble scrip­ture Ro­mans 8:28 is re­cited by Michaela’s mother as they wait for their flight to board: “All things work to­gether for good.”

The num­ber 828, like Hurley’s win­ning lot­tery num­ber in “Lost,” be­comes a re­cur­ring theme.

It’s one of many bread crumbs that point to­ward a po­ten­tially ad­dic­tive se­ries if “Man­i­fest” al­lows its grip­ping su­per­nat­u­ral nar­ra­tive to rise above its char­ac­ters’ less in­ter­est­ing per­sonal dra­mas.

The se­ries also of­fers a story of hope that in­evitably echoes the real-life dis­ap­pear­ance of Malaysian Air flight 370 four years ago. And who couldn’t use a mir­a­cle right about now?

Whether it’s magic at 35,000 feet or the be­gin­nings of a bib­li­cal prophecy about “those who are called,” it’s worth get­ting past “Man­i­fest’s” bumpy land­ing to see if the se­ries truly takes off.


Parveen Kaur stars in new NBC show, “Man­i­fest.”

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