For the second weekend in a row, Manifest remains the most-watched movie or television show on Netflix, even after NBC canceled the series last week after three seasons. Fans were devastated by the cancellation and immediately took to social media to launch the #SaveManifest hashtag, which quickly began trending on Twitter.
— Mandy #SaveManifest (@lexiesdrew) June 18, 2021
Fans have been asking Netflix pick up the series, and those efforts are might be underway. In fact, a story about its potential resurrection was one of the most popular stories on Deadline over the weekend. Fans are clearly passionate about the series, despite ratings that put it on the bubble over on NBC, where the average number of viewers fell from 6.5 million in its first season to 3.1 million in its third.
What’s interesting, however, is how much interest there has been in the broadcast network series, despite the fact that it has essentially been ignored by critics since its opening season. Neither the second nor third seasons even have enough reviews to merit a Rotten Tomatoes score. Full disclosure: both season 2 and season 3 have only one rotten review a piece, and they were both written by me. In fact, in 17 years of writing reviews, I’ve probably received more hate mail from Manifest fans than I have about any other show for which I have written. I’m not complaining, and though I do not like the show, I do appreciate the passion exhibited by the show’s fanbase.
It’s hard to say what’s so compelling about the series, however. It does have an intriguing pilot, but as other critics noted during its first season, the “dialogue is wooden,” and it “might be the most laughably bad show of the pilot season.” Nevertheless, the series gets consistently high audience scores from Rotten Tomatoes viewers, and over on IMDB, the average viewer rating was higher than that of the most recent season of The Walking Dead.
There is something about Manifest with which audiences clearly connect. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what that is, however. The dialogue is wooden, the writers tend to abort storylines when it is convenient, and the series seems to have only a superficial understanding of its own themes. Moreover, it’s almost impossible to write about it at length without drawing comparisons to Lost, although the series seems happy to lean into those comparisons. Showrunner Jeff Rake is on the record stating that he has a six-season plan for the series, but it’s not entirely clear to me that the series even knows where it’s going from one episode to the next, much less a full six seasons.
And yet, viewers clearly have a huge affection for the series, and many of those who love the show have even acknowledged its many problems. In fact, I have received emails from a few people who have told me they like my hate recaps, acknowledged that things I have written are accurate, and yet still really enjoy watching the series.
The bigger reality is this: I think Manifest is bad, and yet I have continued to watch it for three seasons because I still enjoy it all the same. It’s not good, but there’s also nothing else like it on television. It is absolutely bonkers, and yet every character on the series confronts its ridiculous plot turns with complete dead-faced seriousness. No one on the series bats an eye when, for instance, they zap a piece of driftwood from Noah’s Ark that surfaces from a crack in the ocean floor with something called Dark Lightning, which is weirdly a real thing. When three meth heads rise from the dead after being frozen in a lake for months and decide to … rob an ice cream shop, no one scoffs at the absurdity of such a decision. There is a character played by Holly Taylor (Paige Jennings from The Americans) who at one point lights a bedroom on fire and waits for an infant named Eden to save her to demonstrate that the baby is her guardian angel. It is crackers!
Honestly, it’s exactly what makes it so much fun to watch (and write about). There’s no real internal consistent logic, so viewers never know from week to week what insane twist it’s going to take. But no matter how absurd the obstacle they face, the series leads, Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh, will confront it with grim determination. It’s hard not to appreciate their dedication to something so bad, and it is likewise difficult not to get swept up with curiosity. I am dying to know showrunner Jeff Rake’s six-season plan. What could possibly tie all of these outrageous storylines together? I have no idea, but I sure hope that Netflix (or someone else) gives this car crash another opportunity to slide off the road and land in a ditch three years later.
Manifest is dead! Long live Manifest! #SaveManifest