Visiting “The Neighborhood” Will Not Make You “Happy Together”.

CBS just premiered 2 back to back sitcoms on Monday night. Neither of them are worth your time.

“The Neighborhood” is about a white couple that moves into a mostly black LA suburb. The white couple is Dave played by Max Greenfield recently seen in “New Girl” and Gemma played by Beth Behrs formally the blonde of “2 Broke Girls“. Their next-door neighbor is Calvin played by Cedric the Entertainer and his wife Tina is played by Tichina Arnold whom I’ve never seen before.

The whole thing is a one joke show. So a white couple moves into a black neighborhood. They try too hard to fit in. Some of the black people accept them and some don’t. End of story. This one gets a solid “Skip It

The other show “Happy Together” has an even weaker premise. A guy is the accountant for an Australian popstar. When the popstar’s life becomes a shambles and is chased by paparazzi he ends up moving in with the accountant and his wife. It stars Damon Wayans Jr. recently from “New Girl” and Amber Stevens West who recently appeared in “The Carmichael Show“. The popstar is played by Felix Mallard whose only previous credits are an Australian soap opera. I could barely watch one episode. This one gets a solid “Worthless” rating. It’s my candidate for the first show to be canceled. We will see.

“God Friended Me” Uninspired and Predictable

From films like “Oh, God” to “Bruce Almighty” and their sequels to TV shows such as “Touched by an Angel” to “Joan of Arcadia” to “Saving Grace” to the recently canceled “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” the idea that someone is called by God to do special things in the world has pretty much been done in film and TV for many years. CBS’s new comedy/drama “God Friended Me” attempts to update the genre to the social media era we currently live in. I’m not sure there’s much left to explore in this premise.

I liked Joan, Grace, and Kevin but not because I was inspired by the idea that God or angels or other supernatural beings were encouraging them to make a difference in someone’s life. And as a person who considers himself a man of faith I’m not turned off by the religious theme. But I’ve only washed these shows because the characters were compelling and the scenarios were interesting or humorous apart from the godly guidance aspect of the shows.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for “God Friended Me”. Our hero Miles Finer is an atheist podcaster who is this son of a preacher. He lost his faith when his mother was cured of cancer (thanks to his prayers) but then was soon after killed in a car accident. He is played by Brandon Michael Hall. While trying to promote his podcast promoting the idea that there is no God, he receives a Facebook friend request from none other than God. After declining the request several times he finally accepts it and gets a friend suggestion from God for a man named John Dove. He then immediately bumps into him on the street. Out of curiosity he follows him into the subway and ends up saving him from killing himself when John attempts to jump in front of the train.

Thinking that the whole thing is a hoax he turns to his friend Rakesh to help him track down this bogus “God” account. Meanwhile another friend suggestion from God leads him to a reporter named Cara Bloom played by Violett Beane. She is most noted for her role as Jesse Wells speedster resident of Earth-2 on “The Flash“. Together they try to explore who is pulling this presumed hoax on him. Along the way they uncover secrets to her past that connect the two of them.

There is nothing inspired or original about the entire experience. If you have seen any of these other similar shows then the story is totally predictable. There is a sort of heartwarming conclusion to everything as you might expect including his reconciliation with his estranged preacher father played by Joe Morton. Morton most recently played bad guy Rowen “Command” Pope on “Scandal“. It’s uncertain whether or not he will be a major character in the show or not but on the surface it looks like a waste of his talents compared to the meaty part he had in “Scandal”.

With the cancellation of “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” after one season if you are hankering for this particular genre I suppose it might appeal to you. But somehow this one just doesn’t do it for me. Out of deference to people who might like it I will give it a “Could Be Watchable” but overall for me it’s a “Skip It“.

“The Cool Kids” is “The Golden Girls” For a New Generation

In 1985 audiences learned just how funny getting old could be with the hit sitcom “The Golden Girls” which ran for seven seasons. The formula was to put a bunch of veteran comedic actors together and let them shine at what they do best. It’s quite possible that the new Fox sitcom “The Cool Kids” could easily have been called “The Golden Boys” if not for the fact that one of the four actors is female. In my opinion it has the potential to be just as successful as “The Golden Girls”.

The show takes place in a retirement home where our main characters occupy the best table in the dining room. The show opens with our main characters discussing the fact that one of their number their friend Larry has just passed away. They become very defensive about who can occupy his seat. They are compared to “the cool kids” at a high school lunchroom where only a select few get to sit with them.

The cast is made up of sitcom royalty. First of all we have Charlie played by Martin Mull who has played a number of memorable characters in supporting or guest during roles for decades. Although he claims he had to audition for the part it is clear that the writers have custom tailored it to his personality. Basically he’s playing the same quirky, offbeat character he always plays. There are constant references to bizarre things he has done in his past. If you’ve seen him before and enjoyed his performances this will be very familiar territory.

Next we have comedy veteran David Allen Greer as Hank. He’s most noted for his work on the sketch comedy show “In Living Color” from 1990-2001. He has had many other sitcom roles and guest starring appearances. He most recently appeared as the father in “The Carmichael Show” which ran for three seasons from 2015-2017.

Next we have Sid played by Leslie Jordan. You will recognize him as the diminutive flamboyant gay character Beverly Leslie who has appeared on many episodes of “Will & Grace“. Although the character name is different, it’s the same over-the-top gay character he is known for playing.

The newcomer to the cool kids table replacing the recently deceased friend Larry is Vicki Lawrence as Margaret. It’s a bit ironic that she is most known for her elderly character Thelma ‘Mama’ Crowley Harper which originated on “The Carol Burnett Show” in 1967 and later in her own spinoff show “Mama’s Family“. For that character which she played at a young age she wore for prosthetic makeup to age her. Now at age 69 she’s playing an elderly character however Margaret is very much unlike her grumpy iconic Mama. Margaret is spry, funny, and very much likable. In the opening episode she has to earn her way into the empty seat at the cool kids table.

Although constantly played for laughs, the show is dealing with the rather serious issues facing everyone late in life as we wrestle with our own mortality and the loss of dear friends. At times it does become poignant and deal with the topics seriously. This of course is in extreme sharp contrast to the rather sad and tearjerking new series “A Million Little Things” (reviewed here) which also deals with friends who have lost one of their number and the consequences of dealing with it. So if you want to laugh in the face of death or wallow in its sadness you get a choice between these two shows.

Like many sitcoms, at times this one is silly and ridiculous but that’s what sitcoms are supposed to be. My ultimate test of any sitcom is “Did it make me laugh?” And this one had me in stitches several times. You immediately understand who these characters are and appreciate them quickly. The chemistry between them is phenomenal. If audiences find this show I’m confident it can be a big hit.

I’m giving this a strong rating of “I really like it” and I suggest you check it out.

“Murphy Brown” Revival Not As Strong As Other Recent Revivals but Still Should Be a Fun Ride

Given the current political climate, I don’t think anyone was surprised that CBS decided to bring back “Murphy Brown” after a 20 year hiatus. The show ran for 10 years from 1988-1998. Candace Bergen stars as the title character who is an anchor of a TV news magazine show. At the beginning of the original series she was trying to put her life back together after doing a stint in the Betty Ford Center as a recovering alcoholic.

In the opening episode of this reboot we find Murphy is retired but is restless about the current state of politics and journalism. She decides to put the old gang back together and to rejoin TV. Her son who was born amidst a bit of controversy during the original run of the series is now a grown man and a journalist himself. He ends up getting a TV show in her timeslot on a rival network called “Wolf” network (obviously a humorous nod to “Fox” network).

The original series became a topic of public debate when VP Dan Quayle criticized the show as detrimental to family values because Murphy was raising her son as a single mother. After his comments, the show did a special episode in response. Details can be found in this section of the Wikipedia article about the show.

Much of the original cast has returned. Faith Ford returns as perky reporter and former Miss America Corky Sherwood. Joe Regalbuto is fellow reporter Frank Fontana. Grant Shaud returns as their neurotic producer Miles Silverberg. With a couple of exceptions none of the cast has been seen very much except for an occasional guest star running a variety of and comedies and dramas. Bergen had several successful seasons opposite William Shatner and James Spader on Boston Legal, Also faith Ford did have her own sitcom “Hope & Faith” with Kelly Ripa that ran for for 3 from 2003-2006 seasons but was unremarkable.

Missing from the original cast are Pat Corley who played Phil the owner of a diner where the gang would hang out. He passed away in 2006. He has been replaced by Tyne Daly who plays a character called Phyllis who is the sister of Phil and has taken over the diner. Also missing is the very funny Robert Pastorelli as Eldin Bernecky who Murphy hired to paint her home but it took him several seasons to complete the job. She eventually hired him as a male nanny to care for her son Avery. Pastorelli passed away in 2004.

New to the cast are Jake McDorman as her son Avery. He was recently seen in the TV series “Limitless” about a guy who takes a pill that makes him super smart. Also we have Nik Dodani recently seen in a Netflix series “Atypical“. His character Pat Patel is a young tech savvy media consultant who is trying to teach Murphy and the gang how to capitalize on social media. In the opening episode he encourages Murphy to join twitter and she ends up in a twitter war with Pres. Trump. She also reveals that at one point Murphy Brown once dated Donald Trump. This is based on the true story that Candace Bergen herself once went on a date with Donald Trump when she was 18 years old. Here is a YouTube video of her appearance on Stephen Colbert discussing the date with Trump.

One of the running jokes of the original series was that Murphy could not keep a secretary employed. She would have to interview and hire a new person every week. Keeping with that tradition she interviewed a new potential secretary that was played by guest star Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t playing the “real” Hillary Clinton. She was a character named Hilary with one “L”. But there were lots of Hillary jokes thrown in.

Having Clinton guest star continues another tradition of the series having real-life politicians and other TV journalists appear on the show as themselves. We can expect that tradition to continue as well.

The plot of the first episode explored the struggle between being a serious journalist and making compelling high rated TV shows. It’s a little bit difficult to get a feel for the tone of the new series because much of the episode was about getting the old gang back together and introducing the new characters.

I was a big fan of the original series. This revival didn’t immediately impress me in the same way that the revivals of “Will & Grace” or “Roseanne” did. Those other two shows seem to hit their stride immediately as if they had never been off the air. Still there is enough of the old chemistry and ample opportunity for storytelling in the current political climate that this should be a fine ride once it gets going.

I’m giving it a solid rating of “I Am Watching It” and if you are politically center or left and like political humor I highly recommend it.

“A Million Little Things” Celebrates Friendship and Makes You Cry along the Way

Television viewing audiences have proven that no matter how sad or tearjerking a dramatic TV program is, they will still watch it religiously if the stories, characters, writing and acting are top-notch. I’m of course talking about “This Is Us“. ABC’s new drama “A Million Little Things” is putting that theory to the test. Just how much crying are we willing to do in order to be entertained?

The title comes from a tagline that appears at the beginning of the program “Friendship isn’t a big thing… It’s a million little things”. An ensemble cast of TV veterans tells the story of four friends who met by chance 10 years ago when they were stuck in an elevator. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours they shared their life stories with one another and discovered a common passion for the Boston Bruins hockey team. One of the four Jon suggested they get season tickets together and they been attending the games and building a friendship ever since.

However in the opening scenes Jon played by Ron Livingston is completing a business deal over the phone, stepped out onto the balcony of his office, and jumps off killing himself. The remainder of the episode deals with the other three friends trying to come to grips with his suicide. Naturally they wonder how they could’ve missed any signs of depression and they are wrestling with the guilt over their failure to prevent this tragedy.

Each of the three surviving friends has a complex story of their own. Eddie Saville played by former “Grimm” star David Giuntoli is a recovering alcoholic who is cheating on his wife. He gives a memorable eulogy of his friend revealing the back story of how they all met and some of the history of the friendship. Rome Howard played by Romany Malco is a filmmaker who makes TV commercials but longs to make more significant films. He’s carrying some secrets of his own. Finally we have Gary Mendez who is played by James Roday. You will recall him as Shawn Spencer on “Psych“. He is recovering from breast cancer and we are reminded that yes… men can get breast cancer. He’s a bit of a womanizer and picks up a woman at his cancer survivors support group, has sex with her in a bathroom, spends the night with her and then brings her as a date to the funeral of his friend.

Filling out the ensemble cast includes the wives and girlfriends of the friends. We have the widow Delilah Dixon played by Stephanie Szostak who you might recall from the USA Network series “Satisfaction“. Rome Howard’s wife Regina is an aspiring restaurateur is played by Christina Marie Moses seen recently in “The Originals“. Maggie Bloom is the girl that Gary brought to the funeral. She is played by Allison Miller who is been recently seen in “13 Reasons Why“.

There are a few plot twists and revealed secrets that I won’t discuss. But I will say they will give ample opportunity to move the story along in future episodes.

It’s interesting to see James Roday in a serious role much different from his character from “Psych”. Although he does have a few comic lines it is for the most part a straight dramatic role and he handles it well. Similarly David Giuntoli’s character is significantly different from Detective Nick Burkhardt in “Grimm” and he handles it well as well.

Overall it’s well-written, well acted, heavy drama and while the comparisons to “This Is Us” are unavoidable, I’m not sure it has the charm or heart of “This Is Us”. It doesn’t have the family element or the children’s stories that are at the core of “This Is Us”. So if that is what you are looking for, you won’t find it at least not in the opening episode. But other than that this has potential to be a big hit if it can move on with the stories of the characters and not being stuck in the issues surrounding the suicide.

Unfortunately I don’t have room for it in my schedule but I’m giving it a very strong “Recommended Watchable” rating. If you’re looking for a good cry check it out.

“FBI” Is Another Potential Hit for Dick Wolf

Producer Dick Wolf is responsible for creating at least two of the most successful series of TV programs on the air today. He is responsible for all versions of the “Law & Order” franchise as well as the various “Chicago…” programs which occupy the entire NBC schedule on Wednesday night this year. His new series “FBI” appears to have the same high level of drama, action and compelling entertainment as all of his other offerings.

This police procedural covers the agents of the New York office of the FBI. The major characters are two field agents. One is Maggie Bell played by Missy Peregrym who is been recently seen in the Syfy Channel series “Van Helsing” and “Ten Days in the Valley“. The other is Special Agent Omar Adom ‘OA’ Zidan played by Zeeko Zaki who has recently been seen in the military drama “Valor” and “24: Legacy“. The field agents are backed up by Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jubal Valentine played by Jeremy Sisto.

The opening sequence has the agents appearing on the scene of an apartment building explosion and realizing that there may be more bombs. Agent Bell orders the evacuation of all rescue personnel. As she expected, another explosion occurred a few moments later and brought down the entire building. The special-effects of these bombings sequences are state-of-the-art and quite dramatic.

Some of the drama comes from the fact that she refused to let a mother go back into the building and look for her missing son. Throughout the episode she is haunted by that mother’s grief and the loss of the small boy.

The remainder of the show is pretty much a typical police procedural story trying to figure out who is responsible for the bombing. There are other bombings and other bombs found before the case is solved. The urgency of the need to find the people responsible is palpable and keeps the story flowing well.

Basically everything you like about any other Dick Wolf produced and created procedural show you will find in this one. Do we really need another of these considering how many other programs he produces? That’s a question you will have to answer for yourself. But if you like his programs, this is definitely worth looking into.

You’re not going to get the overly complicated plot lines of recent shows like Quantico in which the storytellers seem to deliberately mislead the audience by hiding people’s motives. This is a basic straightforward police procedural but it is very well done.

I’m giving it an initial rating of “I’m Watching It” but it might slip to a similar “Recommended Watch” if my schedule gets too crowded.

“New Amsterdam” Might Be a Good Alternative to Existing Medical Dramas

Broadcast TV already has several successful medical dramas such as the long-running “Grey’s Anatomy“, and newcomers “The Good Doctor“, “The Resident” and “Chicago Med“. Recently we’ve also had shows such as “Code Black” which ran a few seasons. Are we really in need of another medical drama such as NBC’s new series “New Amsterdam“?

After seeing one episode of the new series I think it might be a tentative answer of “yes”.

First of all I don’t watch “Chicago Med” so I can’t really compare. I’ve probably seen every episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”. While I enjoy it, at times it’s a little more soap opera than I care for with too much focus on the personal romantic interactions between the characters. It does tell compelling medical stories so I’ve stuck with it all these years even though the soap opera aspects are not my favorite. Although I have continued to watch the entire first season “The Good Doctor” I am still uncomfortable with the basic premise that someone as severely autistic as Dr. Sean Murphy could be accepted as a surgical resident. I watched a couple of episodes of “The Resident” and found it to be extremely cynical and exploits people’s fears about incompetency of medical personnel. That made it a rather unenjoyable experience for me.

“New Amsterdam” confronts the flaws in the healthcare system head on but does so in a much more positive way than “The Resident”. Our main character Dr. Max Goodwin is the new medical director of New Amsterdam Hospital which is the fictional institution described as America’s oldest public hospital. Producers say it was inspired by New York’s Bellevue Hospital. In a staff meeting wrong his first day he fires much of the cardiac surgical team because they are more focused on profits than patient care. It’s a bit unclear how he came to that conclusion but the scene is really designed to illustrate how he’s willing to shake up the system.

Goodwin is played by Ryan Eggold who is most famous for playing Tom Keen on “The Blacklist“. His passion for fixing the system and taking care of patients is obvious and credible. However the show doesn’t get preachy about the flaws in the system. It’s just focused on dramatic storytelling about the patient’s and the doctors who work their best to treat them.

One storyline involves a young man who recently came from Africa and is possibly infected with Ebola. He’s been sent here unwittingly as a terrorist weapon to try to infect Americans. The challenges of treating such a patient are illustrated and as you might expect one of the doctors becomes exposed to the virus.

Another storyline involves the psychiatry department dealing with a young woman who has been passed from foster home to foster home. The doctor tries to find an appropriate permanent placement for her. If he cannot find placement he’s willing to bend the rules to keep her in the inpatient psychiatric care department just to give her some sense of stability.

So if you agree that “Grey’s Anatomy” is too much of a soap opera and don’t care for “The Resident” or “The Good Doctor” then you might want to check out “New Amsterdam”.

I’m thinking of creating a new category in my rating system. Based on how much I enjoyed the show I would normally give it a rating of “I’m Watching It“. However I’m already watching way too many TV shows on a regular basis so I may not continue to actually watch it but I would give it a strong enough recommendation as if I was going to watch it. So let’s add a new category… “Recommended watchable” which is better than the rather tentative category of “Could Be Watchable”. The “Recommended Watchable” means I would watch it if I had the time.

The New “Magnum PI” Lacks the Charisma Selleck Brought to the Original.

The broadcast networks are facing enormous competition from a variety of online streaming services. They seem to be at a loss to come up with anything new or original. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are creating groundbreaking programs that are stealing audiences away from the traditional networks. So rather than come up with something new to compete with the streaming services, the trend has been to reboot popular series from the past. Some of them have been a welcome addition such as “Will & Grace” and “Roseanne/The Connors“. We will soon see if “Murphy Brown” adds to that list of successes.

Unfortunately I can’t say that the reboot of “Magnum PI” is a welcome addition to the string of reboots. I’m not sure we really need a show about a private detective. The private eye genre has been around for decades in literature, film and TV with such memorable characters as Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, and Sam Spade. On TV in the 70s and 80s we had “The Rockford Files“, “Mannix” and of course the original “Magnum PI” just to name a few. In recent years TV has drifted away from the traditional private eye towards the “police consultant” type of private detective. As I discussed in a previous review these have had varying degrees of success and credibility.

The original “Magnum PI” ran for eight seasons from 1980-1988. I used to watch it occasionally, I don’t really recall a lot about the various characters surrounding him. I always felt like most of the success of the show centered on the charisma of Tom Selleck. I recall he drove around in a fancy Ferreri, he had a sidekick who flew a small helicopter, and there was another sidekick who is a British guy named Higgins.

In the opening scene of the reboot we see our hero Magnum jumping out of a stratosphere balloon in a spacesuit and parachuting into North Korea to rescue a scientist and his family. He escapes Korean forces in a stunt filled chase sequence that pushed credibility beyond its limits. I was very concerned that if the show started off in such a ridiculous fashion we were in for a bad experience. It is suddenly revealed that this is a fictionalized version of events which they admit was highly embellished in a book about his exploits in the Navy. So I thought perhaps the show wasn’t going to be as ridiculous as it originally appeared from its opening sequence.

Unfortunately near the end of the show there is a similar chase scene in which he tries to re-create some of the events from his fictionalized exploits. Although it was not as successful as the fantasy version, it was still pretty ridiculous and unbelievable. It was a stunt sequence that has him jumping out of a car, grabbing onto the landing skid of a helicopter just before a truck smashes into his Ferreri destroying it and the truck and sending them all off a cliff. This scene was totally over-the-top and unbelievable in the worst sense of the word.

In between these ridiculous bookends we got just an ordinary detective show as he tries to track down who kidnapped and killed one of his old Navy buddies. The other action sequences and stunts were not half bad. Overall however there just wasn’t anything memorable about the entire experience. He still drives around in a hot Ferreri (although he ends up destroying two of them in the opening episode). He still has a buddy flying the same iconic small helicopter with a black, yellow, orange paint scheme. The theme song is the same. The fact that sidekick Higgins is now a woman doesn’t really add anything significant to the mixture.

Jay Hernandez plays the new Magnum but for me he lacks the charisma that was an important part of Selleck’s portrayal.

There isn’t anything really wrong with the show but it just isn’t memorable or compelling. If you’re looking for a Hawaii based action-adventure show with more memorable characters and more credible action sequences stick with the 2010 reboot of Hawaii Five-0.

For now I’m giving this a tentative rating of “could be watchable” but I won’t be watching.

Bruno Tonioli showed ignorance or disrespect towards blind contestant on DWTS

Last night on the season premiere of “Dancing With The Stars” judge Bruno Toniroli put on a display that was at best totally ignorant and at worst highly offensive. His natural style and critique involves lots of arm waving and gestures often much to the dismay of head judge Len Goodman who sits next to him and occasionally gets an inadvertent backhand as Bruno waves his arms wildly. His antics are part of the appeal of the show. However last night he found it impossible to come up with a better method of critique for a blind contestant.

Danielle Umstead is a bronze medal winning American Alpine skier in Paralympics. She is the first blind contestant to compete on the show. Previous seasons have included contestants who were deaf, amputees, and a former paraplegic who could walk but had no feeling in her legs. The show has always treated these contestants with dignity.

However last night Toniroli tarnished the show’s reputation and displayed a total lack of common sense when he used arm gestures to illustrate his otherwise constructive criticism of the blind contestant. Had it not been a display of abject ignorance it would have been totally offensive. I was surprised that he did not apologize before the end of the show and I would hope that in tonight’s second episode he would address the incident.

A brief Google search of stories about last night’s performance came up with many articles and videos talking about the performance but none referred to Bruno’s ignorant hand gestures. They quoted Len Goodman and Carrie Ann Inaba but made no mention of Toniroli’s reaction. I find that whitewashing of the episode perhaps more disturbing than the incident itself

Here is a YouTube version of the performance but it does not include the judge’s comments.

Here are a couple of screen grabs of Bruno’s arm gestures in trying to coach the blind contestant.


“Manifest” Has the Potential to Be Good Sci-Fi If It Doesn’t Get Lost

The sci-fi genre is all based on the question “what if?” What if you lived on a desert planet a long time ago in a galaxy far far away and suddenly found yourself thrust into the adventure of a lifetime? What if you are the captain of a starship given the task of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before? What if time travel was possible? What if there was a zombie apocalypse? There is a contract between the creator of a sci-fi work and the reader or viewer. The contract says “Buy into my premise no matter how bizarre or otherworldly and then let me explore with you what will be the consequences.”

Good sci-fi operates under this contract. It doesn’t cheat. Once you by the premise, everything else which flows forth from that has to be logically consistent. Once you establish the rules of the universe in which you are operating, you really shouldn’t break those rules.

For the most part NBC’s new much advertised sci-fi series “Manifest” does a reasonably good job of playing the “what if” game with its audience. From the massive advertising campaign we thought we knew what that big “what if” question was. “What if a passenger airliner disappeared for five and a half years and suddenly reappeared?” From the perspective of the people on board the airplane, they went through a storm and a patch of rough turbulence but landed normally and hour or so later. However from the perspective of the outside world they had been missing for 5+ years. To my surprise, the premise goes a bit further. The survivors of this bizarre incident also gain a type of psychic ability that is manifested in the form of an inner voice that guides them to rescue people. I’m a bit concerned that this additional premise is a premise too far.

The missing airplane premise alone had the potential to make a really compelling story. It’s reminiscent of the hit TV series “Lost” (2004-2010) which asked the question “What if an airplane crashed on an uncharted island and the survivors had to deal with the harsh conditions, reconcile their past, and trying to understand the meaning behind their survival?” Had that been this sole premise of “Lost” it could have been a very compelling story. But it went further and added all sorts of bizarre supernatural elements, mysticism, unexplained scientific phenomena, not to mention a smoke monster. Initially I thought that the producers of “Lost” ruined what was going to be a pretty good show about survival. But these bizarre supernatural elements were so compelling and such a complexly written mythology that it made the show even more compelling. Unfortunately the ending which tried to explain everything left many viewers including myself quite disappointed.

Another example of the “what if unexplained phenomena occurred” genre was the recent HBO series “The Leftovers“. In that story, 2% of the world’s population vanished from the face of the earth with no explanation whatsoever. After three seasons of that series and a reasonable wrapup and conclusion they never did explain why it happened. If you read about the series, you knew up front that it was the producers and writers intended up front to never explain this unexplainable phenomenon. It was all about playing the “what if” game. Although that series did go astray a couple of times into a dream world that was a parallel reality as well as a death and resurrection of some of the characters, it pretty much played the “what if” game cleanly.

So back to the story at hand “Manifest”… In addition to the “what if a plane disappeared and came back five years later” premise. We soon discover that some of the survivors of this bizarre circumstance suddenly start hearing voices in their heads. These voices are leading them in directions where they save people’s lives. In one case a woman riding on a bus implores the bus driver to slow down and thus saves the life of a child who runs into the street in front of the bus. In another sequence the voices lead the woman to discover the location of two kidnapped children.

My concern is that this additional supernatural element has the potential to ruin the really compelling storytelling opportunities about what your life would be like if you disappeared for five years and then came back. I have to feel a little disappointed that this unexpected additional premise is part of the show. It seems that there are a lot of great storytelling opportunities based on the original missing plane premise. I’m not sure that the guiding voices in one’s head really is necessary.

Can “Manifest” become the next “Lost”? The jury is a long way from coming back on that verdict and we won’t really know unless the show survives multiple seasons and becomes the same sort of cult phenomena of “Lost”.

The encouraging thing about the show is that if you dismiss this add-on supernatural element and only focus on the what if you disappeared for five years and came back story line, it is doing an absolutely brilliant job of exploring that drama.

Our main character is Michaela Stone played by Melissa Roxburgh who was most recently seen in the single-season of the military drama “Valor“. She is an NYPD detective who is trying to escape a personal tragedy. She goes on vacation with her brother Ben, his wife and twin children, and her parents. Ben is played by Josh Dallas whom you will remember as Prince Charming from “Once Upon A Time“. Because of a flight overbooking she, brother Ben, and one of his children Cal decide to take a later flight back from their Jamaican vacation. The parents, sister-in-law, and other child take the original flight and arrive normally. Michaela, Ben, and Cal end up on the infamous flight 828 which disappeared and reappeared. Nephew Cal is a terminal cancer patient. Upon his return they discover that there is a new treatment developed during the five year absence that will offer him good hope of a cure.

Much of the story revolves around Michaela, brother Ben, cancer patient Cal, his twin sister Olive is now five years older, and Ben’s wife Grace. Michaela wrestles with the fact that her mother died during the absence. Her boyfriend moved on to marry another woman. And there are hints that Ben’s wife Grace has perhaps developed another relationship as well.

Despite the bizarre premise, this part of the story plays the “what if” game beautifully. You find the characters deep, compelling, internally consistent. It makes an unbelievable premise all the more believable and that’s what good sci-fi is all about. It illuminates the human condition using extraordinary circumstances and I mean that in the literal sense of the word “extra ordinary”.

One of the key features of the mythology of “Lost” was the symbolism and significance of various numbers. “Manifest” steals from that idea by attaching significance to the number 828. It was the flight number of their airplane. It was the address of the kidnapped girls that were discovered. It even refers to a Scripture quote Romans 8:28 which was often quoted by Michaela’s now deceased mother. So those who liked the mythology and mysticism and “Lost” are likely to be intrigued by this new show.

However if “Lost” left you cold with its over-the-top bizarre storylines, I encourage you to give this new show a chance and we will have to wait and see together if it goes off the rails and becomes unbelievably bizarre or if it could hang onto its core premise of exploring human nature and relationships under unusual circumstances.

For now I’m giving it a “I’m watching it” and my hope is that it doesn’t know too far astray and I can upgrade it to a rating of “I really like it”. I recommend you at least give it a try for a couple of episodes.