TV & Movies

Manifest Will Remind You Of This Tragic Real-Life Mystery

The NBC series centers around a mysterious plane disappearance.

Originally Published: 
Virginia Sherwood/NBC/Warner Brothers

NBC's Manifest is a lot like Lost. The supernatural drama, which aired from 2018 to 2021, similarly centers around the mysterious disappearance of a plane: Montego Air Flight 828, which vanished suddenly only to land five years later as if nothing had happened — and the passengers thinking only a few hours had passed. Things only got stranger from there, as the passengers began to discover unique powers and abilities and learn that they may not have been the only people to experience this type of time travel.

If that all sounds pretty fantastical, it is. But the series may not have ever made it to screen if it weren’t for the real 2014 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Manifest creator Jeff Rake told Syfy in 2018 that he first thought of the concept for the show years ago, but it took a long time to attract interest. "I pitched [Manifest] around [a decade ago], nobody wanted it," he said. "Then, seven years later, Malaysian Airlines happened and suddenly my crazy idea felt a little more real, a little more relatable, in the context of Malaysian Air, suddenly people were interested."

Unlike in Manifest, what happened to the passengers of Malaysian Flight 370 remains a mystery. According to The Guardian, Malaysian investigators released a 1,500-page report in 2018, four years after the flight's disappearance, stating that they were not able to conclusively determine what exactly happened to the plane, where it is, or why it disappeared.

In 2017, CNN reported that some debris from MH370 has been found in the Indian Ocean, suggesting that the plane may have crashed in the area. But according to TIME Magazine, not a single body has ever been uncovered. The story fascinated people when the plane first disappeared, and not having conclusive answers has led to all kinds of speculation and theories about what might have happened.

That same search for answers unfolded on Manifest as well, with fans theorizing wildly about why Flight 828 went missing and what was happening to the characters after they returned. However, NBC abruptly canceled the show after three seasons in June 2021, despite the fact that it had recently risen to the No. 1 spot on Netflix's Top 10 list.

When Manifest premiered in 2018, it received mixed reviews from critics, and Season 1 now has a 58% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics praised the show's unexpected twists as well as the performances of the cast , but others felt that it wasn't different enough from previous series (notably Lost). Nonetheless, it was a hit among viewers: NBC News reported that Manifest was broadcast TV's fourth most popular scripted show after Season 1.

Its later seasons didn’t fare as well. Season 3 fell 20% in viewership compared to Season 2, which was already down nearly 40% from Season 1. That could explain the show’s cancellation, though NBC renewed new series Young Rock and Kenan, which both had smaller viewership numbers than Manifest. Whatever the case, NBC didn't want to commit to further episodes, and Deadline reported that Netflix also passed on picking up the show for a fourth season.

Now, viewers are desperate for some kind of closure to the show, which ended with a number of loose ends and unanswered questions. Rake, who originally had a six-season plan, is hopeful that he’ll find a way to complete the story. “We’re trying to find a way to conclude the series. Could take a week, a month, a year. But we’re not giving up. You deserve an end to the story," he tweeted following the news that Netflix had passed on producing a fourth season. “Keep the conversation alive. If it works out, it’s because of YOU.”

Since finding a network for three more seasons could be a hard sell, the Manifest team is reportedly eyeing a two-hour film to wrap things up. If that falls through, the mystery of the fictional Flight 828 will have a similar conclusion to that of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 —having no real ending or answers at all.

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