The passionate fan drive to rescue the ludicrous but addictive ‘Manifest’
It seems NBC and Netflix officials may have had a collective calling. For weeks, fans of the cancelled show Manifest have taken to social media to convince the heartless media executives to save this oddly-beloved show through that classic 21st century form of civil disobedience: the hashtag campaign.
Thousands of messages begged the networks to change their minds, all ending with the catchy hashtag, #SaveManifest. By the third week of July, Jeff Rake, the creator of Manifest, who had slyly egged the campaign on through digital scavenger hunts that required re-watching programs, seemed to subtly hint that he was making progress on saving his show from corporate oblivion. Much like the callings had provided the show with its loopy connective tissue, the social media campaign had proven that many minds thinking alike could possibly save the world, or at least a ludicrous but highly-addictive television show.
In the before times, none of this mattered much to TV viewers, who mostly ignored Manifest on NBC after its first season in 2019, leading to declining ratings and cancellation. But now, like a phoenix (or Peacock) rising from centuries-old Egyptian mythology or directly from the tarot cards read in urban parks, Americans came together to save Manifest from one of the worst program cancellations in modern TV history. For perhaps supernatural reasons, Manifest–just days after NBC cancelled the show after three seasons (Rake had an envisioned a full six seasons)–had become a hit! And not just an average hit. It became one of Netflix’s most streamed shows in its history, reaching number one for three weeks, and the top 10 for 40 consecutive days.
Somehow, this plodding show infused with Christian theology and a multi-racial cast cosplaying middle-class life in Queens neighborhoods near LaGuardia Airport found an audience. Of millions and millions of people.
Who couldn’t get enough about a show whose barely believable premise focused primarily on the meaning of shared cognitive visions (“callings”) among passengers on a doomed airplane, the Stone Family whose lives had been transformed by the airplane’s disappearance for 5.5 years, and the collective machinations of secretive national security agencies, street preachers, meth dealers, high school sports coaches who force high school athletes to be meth dealers, absentee parents, teenage angst, conniving university administrators and their duplicitous yoga wives, Florida evangelicals, good cops, better cops, baby snatching slashers, dead mothers, drunk driving deaths, accusations of devil worship, and a still confusing mélange of cabin hideouts near Albany with characters who also have callings when not appearing as the three horsemen of the apocalypse.
Also, there’s a secret government agency that started to make some sense of this all because the Vatican sent a part of Noah’s Ark (with its own mailing label with a cross, of course) to aid in its investigation. So, truly outlandish stuff. Yet people couldn’t get enough of it. And I was one of them!
Yes, I, too, joined in the #savemanifest craze! Why? I really have no idea. During the pandemic, I binge-watched shows. But really nothing like this, consuming five or six episodes at time, and blocking the rest of the World out for hours on end. I grew up a few towns away from Satin Dolls, the strip club that served as the Bada Bing in The Sopranos. Yet not since that show–a psychodrama about a New Jersey crime family–had I become so invested in a program’s characters and plotline. Heck, my wife and I had one of our biggest arguments of the pandemic, not about home-schooling, wearing masks, or wiping down mail. No, we argued about why she had jumped so far ahead of me in watching Manifest!
And now there is a small sign of hope. Rake’s messages over the past several days, like the show itself, have become more mysterious, implying that a deal might be close for another season, or perhaps a finale in the form of a movie that will answer all of the show’s ridiculous questions, plot twists, and looming death dates thrown out over nearly 50 episodes. Might Manifest actually be saved? Might the bean counters in TVlandia finally realize that millions of people were having difficulty going on with their lives without knowing how this show ends?
If so, I think it may be because that the TV execs finally realized that Manifest, in its streaming form, had come at the perfect time in the American story, just as tens of millions of people had begun to experience the new reality of a what they thought would be a post-COVID world, perhaps even a Summer of Love for the vaxxed.
As the white-collar office class returned to their offices for the first time in over a year, they found their lives as they once were: open office plans that had become public health threats, notes for projects that had been cancelled, moldy plates with food from restaurants that had since closed. As it had for the passengers of Flight 828, parts of life had stopped for many of us since March 2020 and, yet here we were, headed back to our supposed regular lives trying to make sense of it all. What a perfect time for Manifest, a show about life stopping for five and a half years, to come roaring back as one of the most streamed programs in Netflix history days after its original cancellation. Maybe it was all connected?
Something had to explain why this most ridiculous of shows had touched so many people. It couldn’t be the ridiculous storyline, the Saturday Night Fever-like cast, or rote Christian resurrection narrative, could it? Did people need to know what actually happened to the passengers on Flight 828? They were brought back to life. Big deal. So was Emperor Palpatine. MOVE ON. Or were viewers saying something else, about yearning for a simpler time in their lives, pre-COVID?
Maybe the story about saving Manifest isn’t about Flight 828 at all. Maybe it isn’t about the inexplicable failures of the Spirit Air-like Montego Airlines and its now half-dead-from-the-future, once missing-now-found-sort-of pilot? Maybe, instead, it was about…us. This show has people believing again! That everything could be ok! Even after death! Or government testing! Or after something totally inexplicable!
Manifest was telling us that our lives were going to be ok, even in the worst of circumstances, if we just believed. That despite being apart for so long, maybe we were all connected, as the Cal Stone meme goes. That maybe a hashtag could be used to save our world and fight back against a faceless corporate bureaucracy that got its start mailing billions of CDs via the post office, long before that public behemoth was nearly weaponized in the last Presidential election. Maybe, in fact, people weren’t trying to save a TV show. Maybe they were trying to save themselves.