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'Manifest' review: One of the fall season's better shows

(l-r) Luna Blaise as Olive Stone, Jack

 (l-r) Luna Blaise as Olive Stone, Jack Messina as Cal Stone in NBC's "Manifest." Photo Credit: NBC/Warner Brothers/Craig Blankenhorn

THE SERIES "Manifest"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Montego Air Flight 828 takes off from Jamaica with 191 aboard — and lands five years later in New York. No one on board aged, but those on the ground have. A family that split up back in Jamaica to take two separate flights now have to put their lives back together. Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh) finds her fiance has married someone else. Her brother Ben (Josh Dallas), who was on 828 with her, reconnects with his family, including a daughter who was a child in Jamaica but is now a teen. Oh, and the 191 people hear voices that tell them about events, impending or otherwise.

MY SAY Why, why, why? Why does a plane carrying 191 people disappear for five years? Why do they have precognition, warning them about bad stuff before it happens or as it happens? The logician in each of us demands a plausible answer. But the veteran TV viewer in each of us raises a red flag because we know there isn't one.

Aliens? Please, can't we give the "aliens did it" a rest for just once? The hand of God may be in this, and "Manifest" does flash the God card briefly, playing as it does with the number "828" (Romans: "All things work together for good.") But this plot twist is the easy way out.

Let's talk about "wormholes." The general theory of relativity posits that a tunnel can connect universes or bridge gaps in time. That's fine, but then "Manifest" would join a whole cosmos of wormhole franchises like "Doctor Who," "Star Trek," "Torchwood" and pretty much half the Marvel cinematic universe.  "Manifest" clearly does not want to be a wormhole show. Nor does it want to be "The Leftovers," "The 4400," "Flashforward," "The Event," "Jericho" or any of the other half-dozen roughly similar shows of TV seasons past.

What "Manifest" does want to be is a series that explores those sinewy, interconnected and entirely unexpected twists of fate that can make life so miraculous and have made "This is Us" such a big hit. "Manifest" wants to be "This Is Us" with a taste of "Lost." 

Over the first episode, it manages the feat with considerable skill. A good cast sells the improbable hook by at least making it emotionally probable. Five years missing, each almost has the right mix of bewilderment with gratitude. "Funny how one little decision can ruin your life but also save it," says Michaela.

 Maybe not funny, exactly, but at least a pretext for a promising new series.

BOTTOM LINE One of the fall's better new shows.

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