Television Man | Aidan Morgan | July 8, 2021


“The only acceptable way for Superman to kill General Zod is to squeeze him really hard into a Zod-diamond which he makes into an engagement ring for Lois Lane. But when Lois drops the ring in the tub, Superman must face his greatest challenge: Moist Crystal Zod. Oh no!” —from Television Man: The Lost Seminars (1966)

People like to say that the pandemic has changed things. They come up to me in the street and say, “You know what, the pandemic has changed things. For example, people used to come up to you on the street, but not any more.” Before I can point out the situation’s obvious inconsistency, they’re off telling the next person how the pandemic has changed things.

These are stupid and confusing times. To relieve the confusion, may I suggest Manifest?

Manifest’s Density

Like most of the shows in Netflix’s top 10, Manifest (NBC/Netflix) — a warmed-over “mysterious event” series in the vein of Lost — is profoundly bad. It’s a throwback to when television shows were background signals flinging fitful little blips of narrative tension and explanatory dialogue to give even the most indifferent viewers a rough idea what was happening.

This kind of middling product worked well on network television but it may be even more successful in streaming formats. Just press play and let the episodes float by.

The engine that powers Manifest is a mysterious five-year gap that affects passengers of Flight 828, effectively stranding a group of tourists from 2013 in the wilds of 2018. There’s some genuine drama from people coming home to families who have moved on from them, but Manifest mostly uses that pathos as an excuse for attractive people to look sad while they deal with the more pressing issue of being chased by nefarious government agents and solving crimes at the behest of mysterious voices and visions that might be sent from God.

Seasons one and two are streaming on Netflix. A third and final season recently aired on NBC, two years short of its planned run.

Lean and Mean

If you’re looking for an equally bingeable series that offers the additional benefit of being good, try Hacks (Crave). Hacks is about a famous comedian (Jean Smart) facing the end of her career and a Gen Z comedy writer (Hannah Einbinder) whose career is stalling out thanks to an ill-advised tweet.

Smart gives a career-best performance as Deborah Vance, a Vegas headliner and QVC host living in a frozen bubble of wealth. Her once-sharp comedy has calcified into cheap-seat shtick, and her unquestioned position at the top of the Vegas heap is being claimed by acts like Pentatonix. Into Vance’s life comes Ava Daniels (Einbinder), a Midwestern transplant struggling to overcome a minor scandal and watching as her friends go from directing indie dramas to Marvel movies. Einbinder plays Daniels as a bundle of neuroses and self-defence mechanisms, bristling at perceived slights and preemptively alienating anyone in her orbit.

It’s a pleasure to watch Vance and Daniels play off each other as they gradually become something between friends and surrogate family. Their initial meeting, which devolves into a mutual roasting session, is astonishing for its escalating cruelty and hilarity.

The first season of Hacks is a brisk run of 10 half-hour episodes, so there’s no reason not to watch the whole thing in one sitting.