SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains details about the pilot episodes of Magnum P.I. and Manifest
If you were at San Diego Comic-Con in July, you might have been treated to an advance screening of the pilots for CBS’ reboot of Magnum P.I. and NBC’s Manifest. Both series premiere on Sept. 24 and one is an action-packed and solid modern-day homage to a TV classic that was once fronted by a mustachioed private investigator, while the other just seems to get “lost” in its premise. I’ll let you guess which one is which.
The new Magnum P.I. is not playing around. The pilot episode opens with the titular Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez) HALO-jumping from space — yes, space — into North Korea to rescue a family to take them to America. It all seems so… unbelievable. That’s because what we are seeing didn’t necessarily happen.
The action-packed opening is interrupted with a record scratch and we see that this story is being told through a book written by a man named Robin Masters, a former journalist-turned-author who followed Magnum and his buddies Rick (Zachary Knighton), TC (Stephen Hill), and Sebastian (Domenick Lombardozzi) while they were part of a special ops team in Iraq. As a payment for letting him follow them around during the war, Masters gave Magnum a job as a live-in security consultant on his property as he supplemented his PI business.
The four buddies are lounging around Magnum’s abode, a guest house on Masters’ massive estate and are discussing how the author exaggerates their adventures in his book over pineapple and baloney sandwiches…ew.
It’s not long until we are introduced to “majordomo” of the property Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks), who lives in the main house on the estate and there’s an immediate “will they, won’t they” vibe between Higgins and Magnum as they argue about her Dobermans Zeus and Apollo and how they aren’t too keen on Magnum.
The first 10 minutes of this modern reimagining pretty much sets up what we expect to see in the pilot: ridiculously fun action and strong bonds between the core cast members — bonds that are immediately shattered when Sebastian ends up murdered.
The pilot’s premise seems standard: someone is mysteriously killed and his group of friends sets out to find out who did it and why, with one leading the charge. In this case, it’s Magnum. Each of them has a responsibility: wisecracking Rick is the guy who has the connections, while TC is an amazing helicopter pilot. Then there’s Higgins, a male character in the original ’80s series. Here, she holds her own in the boys club and deals with the overly masculine BS around her by not asking permission — for the most part. There are times when it feels like she is trying to prove herself worthy when she really doesn’t need to. I mean, she is a former MI-6 agent so I think she knows what she is doing.
Directed by Justin Lin, there clearly are some Fast and Furious nuances that give this reboot a jolt of high octane action — especially in the final moments of the pilot when Hernandez jumps from a Ferrari off a cliff during a high-speed chase and latches on to a helicopter, pretty much walking away from the whole situation with nothing but a scratch on his head. It’s ridiculous and, true to Fast and Furious form, wildly enjoyable.
For Magnum newbies, there is no need to be familiar with the original series. Having watched some of the original, I’m not a full-out expert of the original, but enjoy that it is a pop culture classic featuring a Hawaiian-shirt clad Tom Selleck and his fancy Ferrari. For Magnum purists, this new iteration is not trying to replace or diminish Selleck and his manly P.I. adventures. It’s giving the story a fresh, contemporary take while respecting its predecessor (i.e. Zeus and Apollo, the Ferrari).
Hernandez has the smooth-talking, rebellious swagger associated with the character but doesn’t make it a Selleck impersonation. Instead, Hernandez puts his stamp on it with a thoughtful smirk and undeniable charm that is all his own. Surrounded by a strong inclusive cast of players, this new take on Magnum P.I. isn’t just a stunt to feed a hunger for nostalgia. It’s a fun action series that will provide entertaining television that has the spirit of the classic but with modern appeal.
In Jeff Rake’s NBC drama Manifest, passengers on Montego Air Flight 828 experience a dangerously turbulent flight from a “weather surge not on the radar,” but, fortunately, they land safely — but there’s a twist! When they land, they slowly come to the realization that five and a half years have passed and their friends and family have mourned their deaths and moved on. Sounds riveting, right? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
At the center of the series are siblings Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) and Ben (Josh Dallas). They are on flight 828 with Ben’s son Cal (Jack Messina), who has leukemia. As they attempt to reconnect with their loved ones, Michaela and Ben, along with their fellow passengers, try to figure out what the hell is going on.
The premise leads us to believe that plenty can be churned out by this mysterious disappearing-reappearing plane story. In fact, it parallels the narrative of another airplane mystery series that became a pop culture phenomenon. Yes, I’m referring to Lost. Unlike Lost, Manifest, with the exception of some psychic voices in Michaela and Ben’s heads, doesn’t lean into Smoke Monster-driven sci-fi and fantasy. Instead, it feels like a family drama couched in an extraordinary incident, but the building blocks of the series fail to meet the bar of the astonishing story. Manifest tries to set itself apart from Lost but as hard as it tries, it will not be able to escape comparisons — and that is one of the main reasons why the series lacks intrigue.
The pilot has a primary focus on Michaela and Ben and then touches on fellow passenger Saanvi (Parveen Kaur), who ends up getting involved in Cal’s treatment. This begins the interconnectedness of the characters on the plane and, once again, calls attention to the Lost similarities. But Michaela has the spotlight of the drama as she attempts to live a life many think she lost five years ago. As she struggles to find her place in the world, she is haunted by a mysterious voice that guides her at a pivotal moment in an investigation. Even all of this doesn’t move the needle on the Meh-nifest barometer of excitement.
At the end of the episode, all of the passengers and crew of flight 828 are summoned to the airplane they were on by some sort of psychic force. When they arrive, they are greeted by a surprise and Michaela says “This is just the beginning.” I guess that is supposed to leave us wanting more, but in order for us to want more, we need to be hungry for it and the pilot left nothing for us to crave.
Lost gave us many unanswered questions and strong, mysterious characters we wanted to explore. Manifest manages to do the opposite of that, leaving us with questions we don’t mind being left unanswered and characters that fail to hook us into this narrative. The intention of this series is appreciated, but this pilot had turbulence from the very beginning and the execution was as flavorful as airplane food.