Tag Archives: television

Knight Rider, in the Rear View…

*Edit — this was supposed to be a brief discussion about Knight Rider. By no means did I intend to write a 2200 word essay about it!

Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless… in a world of criminals who operate above the law.

The grandiose opening narrative is familiar to anyone who was a fan of the show, and that theme is a perfect slice of eighties synth-pop that is hard to rail against. That music holds up even now. The rest of the show – well, I’ll get to that…

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When I was a child – specifically, when I was about ten years old – Knight Rider was my favourite TV show by quite some margin. Yeah, the one with the crazy black car with all the cool gadgets. Looking back on it now, I can see that what I was watching was basically a watered-down version of James Bond – from the tricked out vehicle to the beautiful girls.

I had Knight Rider posters on my bedroom walls. I read the annuals. Hell, for a while I even thought I would grow up to look like David Hasselhoff with that big eighties bouffant he sported. Suffice to say, the show has always been special to me, but is it like that because I have continued to wear those rose-coloured glasses and refused to question the show’s validity in the twenty-first century, or are my reasons for keeping it close to my heart justified? Is Knight Rider as great today, as it absolutely was when I was a kid?

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Ski Mode

Although I have seen the odd episode here and there since its heyday, I haven’t watched the entire run, and I certainly haven’t done so with anything other than child-like admiration. I wasn’t critical of it then. I wanted to look at it with (ironically) fresh eyes – to see if I can appreciate it as a discerning adult, and also to see what it was about it that I fell in love with as an impressionable ten year old. Hopefully history has been kind to my memories.

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Turbo Boost

Because I was curious, I went back and counted: over one third of the show’s ninety episodes have ‘Knight’ in the title. I suppose this doesn’t mean anything really, but it does stick out to me as an example of the producers pandering to the children in the audience, and there were many of those, because what I came to appreciate while watching Knight Rider as an adult, is that it is most decidedly a show for kids. I should probably have known that, but I didn’t remember it that way at all. I genuinely thought it was a family show, but it’s really not. In fact, after watching all ninety episodes it’s apparent to me that I don’t actually remember many of them. Sure, I remember the big things that happen, and I know the feel of the show, but the minutiae of each episode – of any episode – has found a way out of my head over the last thirty-plus years. It’s a little alarming, but probably expected after such a long absence.

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Michael Long

Knight of the Phoenix is the movie-length pilot, and it introduces us to the three central characters that will persist throughout the show. Michael Knight is played by David Hasselhoff, but the series begins with a Michael Long. Long is played for not-very-long-at-all by Larry Anderson.

Devon Miles

Devon Miles is the elderly Englishman, played by Edward Mulhare, who leads the covert government operation known as the Foundation for Law And Government (FLAG). Devon is usually level-headed and also acts as Michael’s emotional balance when things get a little dangerous. He is presented as a father-figure for Michael as well. It’s a relationship which is maintained throughout the entire series, and one that even grows towards genuine friendship by the end of the run.

KITT is the modified Trans-Am that does all the cool tricks, and the real reason anyone who watched this show, did. He is brought to life by William Daniels, and as voicework goes, I’d say Daniels is nigh on perfect for the role.

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Michael Knight

So, back to the pilot…

Michael Long is a detective in Las Vegas who gets shot point blank in the face and left for dead… which also makes this quite a violent first handful of minutes for a programme that is aimed at children. There are a lot of jarring visual and audio edits before Anderson gives up the role, including sometimes over-dubbing Hasselhoff’s voice, and (even more oddly) occasionally substituting his body in longer shots. But it was the eighties, and production values were not what they are now. I can’t see this kind of editing faux pas making the cut these days. It took me out of the scenes, but I can grudgingly give it a pass. And yes, I agree: the set-up of the show is a little ropey, but it’s certainly not the wildest introduction I’ve ever seen on television.

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KITT

Long then awakens in the mansion of eccentric millionaire Wilton Knight, with a new face thanks to some stellar cosmetic surgery. His car has also gone under the knife, and it is now the souped-up machine that inarguably becomes the most iconic television vehicle of the decade. Everyone knows KITT, even those three people who have never seen Knight Rider.

The bromance between Michael and KITT is quick to get off the ground and the writers really don’t waste any time getting their banter up and running. By the time the pilot ends, and the bad guys have been dealt with, their relationship is fairly solid and well defined, and it stays consistent throughout the entire series. The camaraderie between man and machine is one aspect of Knight Rider that is still great after all this time.

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Bonnie Barstow

In the second episode we are introduced to Bonnie Barstow, played by Patricia McPherson. She is KITT’s long-suffering resident mechanic, and the Q to Michael’s Bond, to stick with that comparison. As well as being the good-looking grease-monkey, and technical whiz, she is the object of Michael’s chaste affections. He never gets anywhere with her, but then again, there’s only so much you can do with the audience sitting in front of the TV, so their budding romance never blooms into anything beyond a little flirtation.

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KARR

The first season as a whole is not too bad but I’ll be honest: it is mostly forgettable stuff. The first handful of episodes operate on an extremely small scale, where the stakes are mostly parochial at best, and it is perhaps telling that the only thing I genuinely remember about this season is the introduction of KITT’s nemesis KARR in Episode 8, Trust Doesn’t Rust. At least this battle makes things feel a little more important. For the first time, KITT and Michael are vulnerable. The episode obviously resonated with other viewers too, because once that challenge is dealt with, KARR makes his second and final appearance in the Season Three episode, KITT vs KARR.

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Goliath

On that note, the best episodes of Knight Rider are unequivocally the ones in which KITT is damaged or destroyed and has to be rebuilt, although seeing KITT busted and broken still saddens me, even as an adult, such is my affection for the car. As much as I never tired of Michael hitting Turbo Boost and watching KITT hit the ramp that was never quite as hidden as I thought it was as a child, I was always happy to see the protagonists face a new challenge because it would inevitably lead to KITT getting some kind of overhaul – be that a new function that would only be used for that particular episode, or a change in appearance that would fundamentally alter the way KITT looked.

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KITT’s new white jacket, from Junk Yard Dog

In Goliath, the Season Two opening double feature, which gives us perhaps the show’s greatest enemy, KITT has a laser installed after a collision with the deadly truck. The Season Three opening double header, Knight of the Drones sees KITT annihilated by a missile, after which he is rebuilt with a new dashboard. Junk Yard Dog, also from Season Three, lays claim to the show’s most horrifying death, where KITT is dumped into an acid pit. And finally, Knight of the Juggernaut; the Season Four opening double episode, gives KITT the most attention-grabbing makeover of the entire show, but more on that later…

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April Curtis

Bonnie is inexplicably absent from the show for the duration of Season Two, and is replaced by April (played by Rebecca Holden). Just as KITT is occasionally given a makeover, April – with the flowing red locks and the flashy smile – is certainly a visual upgrade, but her reason for being there is never explained. She has neither the chemistry with Michael, nor the gravitas to pull off a specialist mechanic, and she is released into the wild after Season Two ends, at which point Bonnie comes back for Seasons Three and Four. April is never referenced again. This makes Season Two somewhat of an anomaly, although not without its great moments – not least of all The Hoff trying to pull off the evil twin brother shtick in both Goliath and Goliath Returns with nothing but a stick-on moustache, a cane, and an angry intonation. Truly classic television.

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RC3

RC3 (played by Peter Parros) is the only character addition to Season Four. He is the token black dude the show runners obviously added to the cast to inject a little street smarts into the mix. He sometimes helps Michael with the heavy lifting and gets involved in a few punch-ups, but it feels like he is mostly there for cynical reasons rather than the development of any storyline. He’s harmless enough, but then he did give us Super Pursuit Mode.

I really don’t like Super Pursuit Mode. It allows KITT to travel 40% faster than his previous maximum speed of 300mph. This also means that every time it’s used (and trust me; it’s used a lot throughout the final season) we have to watch the same Transformer-style animation. It’s cool at first, but it gets old very quickly.

Super Pursuit Mode

Super Pursuit Mode was installed after KITT was taken apart in Knight of the Juggernaut, and it was probably intended to shake things up, to try and maintain the show’s relevance, but it’s an unnecessary upgrade. Its activation turns the sleek black Trans-Am into a hulking Lego-like behemoth that has more in common with Nolan’s Batmobile than it does the vanilla version of KITT pre-facelift. The function comes complete with the fantastically rubbish Emergency Braking System, which sees KITT stopping from a speed of over 400mph in a matter of metres with the use of, well… flaps.

Emergency Braking System

Oh yeah, and KITT now has a convertible option for those lazy days under the desert sun, but that’s just silly.

Topless KITT

Season Four is also noteworthy for the pivotal episode, The Scent of Roses, in which Michael gets married, only to (spoilers) watch his wife get shot and killed at the ceremony. Originally conceived as the final episode of the show – which would have wrapped up the character arc quite nicely – it actually sits oddly in the middle of the season which, from a storytelling perspective, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. He’s back in the proverbial saddle in the very next episode.

So, after all that – is Knight Rider worth watching?

I can’t judge the show as an adult, because it is not meant for the me of 2019. Other than nostalgia, it does not have any merits for people my age, and why should it? It’s a show for children.

Am I disappointed? Sure. I have the complete box set, but I probably won’t be going back to it, and that’s undoubtedly the saddest thing of all. But it’s important to remember that Knight Rider is also a product of its time. A ten year old today will likely not get anywhere near the same enjoyment from it that I did, because television has changed, and the people who watch it have changed too.

Today’s ten year old uses technology on a daily basis that is far more advanced than a lot of the stuff inside KITT, but that’s all right. KITT was a super-advanced vehicle in 1982… but not so much in 2019. Yes, a lot of KITT’s functionality is still sci-fi and fantasy, but in other areas it is positively archaic. Kids nowadays would laugh at the so-called hi-tech computer graphics on the dashboard.

Having said that, Knight Rider was on the money with the satellite navigation system and the use of video calls. Both of those are common today. Self-driving cars are also in the early stages of becoming a real-world reality for the masses, so it’s only a matter of time.

And I don’t care what anyone says – that steering wheel is awesome!

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Tuesday TV Testimonials #21…

Chicago Hope (1994 – 2000)

castMedical dramas are almost as much of a television staple as their legal counterparts. Chicago Hope had the dubious pleasure of debuting on the same day as that other medical juggernaut of the nineties, which was probably at least part of the reason that this one was cancelled after six seasons and the other one went on for a few more.

The writing on Chicago Hope was deep, but there was frequently a playful wink just below the surface – with a noir-inspired black and white episode, a musical episode, and one filmed as a celebrity style documentary, amongst other oddities. These diversions from the general week to week of surgery and the emergency room will come as no surprise once you understand the show is the brainchild of David E Kelley – the same guy who spawned Ally McBeal just a few years later.

The cast of Chicago Hope went through several transitions until, by the end of its run most of my favourites had fallen by the wayside, and there were only a couple of characters who had been there from the beginning. As the final season kicked in, although still good, the show’s glory days were a couple of years in the past, and its cancellation probably saved it from jumping the shark and kept its reputation intact.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #18…

Alien Nation (1989 – 1990)

16ce8145892626b59a82e65548b1f588--movie-sequels-tv-movieFinancial difficulties for the network it was on ensured that Alien Nation – one of my favourite shows growing up – got the axe after only a single season of 22 episodes. Several years later five TV movies were produced, which continued the story, but it was never the same.

Alien Nation was set several years after an extra-terrestrial ship had crash-landed in the desert and these aliens had been integrated into society. It was another in the long line of California-based cop shows that proliferated TV at the time, but its unique selling point was its overarching sci-fi theme, and the fact that it offered a human and alien partnership in place of the usual mismatched cop premise.

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The Newcomers – as the alien race is called – have many quirks, which is the genesis of much of the show’s humour. They are bald with spotted or striped skulls; they have two hearts; they get drunk on sour milk; and the male of the species gives birth… after roughly four months.

Almost every episode of Alien Nation is a somewhat blatant social commentary on (usually) racism and (sometimes) sexism. It’s rarely subtle and never particularly clever, but these are such emotive subjects that sometimes obvious works just as well.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #10…

The Two Ronnies (1971 – 1987)

988350e77e6ef36374a6a79c9168b098The Two Ronnies (the television show) is a British institution, and the two Ronnies (Barker and Corbett) are held in high regard in their own right as well, each having appeared in and produced comedy gold sitcoms independently of the other.

But, no matter what else they did or who else they worked with in their long and storied careers, it is their joint partnership that they will be remembered for above all else. Whenever I saw them appear on screen alone, my initial thought was always to wonder when the other guy was going to show up.

The Two Ronnies was a comedy sketch show – a format that was very popular in the seventies and eighties, but that seems to have disappeared off the map completely in the last couple of generations. Whether Barker was finding humour in his love of wordplay; or Corbett was meandering his way through a simple joke in his comfortable chair; or they were both dressing up as women and singing, as at the end of many episodes, The Two Ronnies was a great example of light entertainment done right.

It’s easy to be cynical and think that they were simply thrust together because they shared a forename, but the truth is, it was obvious that they were great friends as well as partners. Their chemistry was transcendent and dare I say, very rare in the world of television. They are often compared to Morecambe and Wise – the other popular British double act of the seventies – but in my opinion Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett are the best comic team that Britain has ever produced. The Two Ronnies provided me with a lot of laughter growing up, and I miss their special kind of magic.

To end, here is one of their most well-known sketches.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #9…

My Secret Identity (1988 – 1991)

MSI03I think most people will have a fondness for certain TV shows from their younger days that they don’t really remember all that much about. It’s like a protected nostalgia. You know – shows where most of the details are gone, but there’s just something (for some reason) that your memory clings on to. My Secret Identity is one of those shows.

Other than its catchy (yet cheesy) theme, the basic premise of the show, who starred in it, and the fact that I distinctly remember enjoying my time with it, I couldn’t break down any episodes for you with any real degree of accuracy. Hell, it’s only recently that I found out it was Canadian. I could easily lie to you, hit Google, and tell you all about it, but you can do that yourself if you really want to, and besides, that would defeat the purpose.

It’s hard to believe Jerry O’Connell signed on for this kid’s show a couple of years after his turn in Stand By Me, yet here we are. He plays a teenager who trips down his basement stairs and into a photon beam which – in true comic book fashion – bestows him with super powers that he manages to find a use for in every episode.

If you have never heard of it, or just want to remind yourself of its (admittedly eighties) charm, here’s the pilot episode. It actually holds up surprisingly well.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #8…

Chuck (2007 – 2012)

chuck-tv-series-wallpaper-05Chuck had a very chequered history, and as a result is a show that a lot of people missed on its original rotation, and it was even going to be cancelled after its third season until fans stepped in and made themselves heard. The noise gave them two more years, and the show ended in a manner more befitting its stellar run, but it is still destined to be one of the forgotten gems of the last decade.

Chuck was an action comedy show about a nerdy young guy (played by Zachary Levi) who works as a computer hardware support assistant. One day he becomes exposed to an email virus which implants in his brain a program that turns him into the world’s greatest spy. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Essentially it’s a superhero show without the cape, or James Bond for those who don’t really want everything shaken or stirred.

YvonneStrahovski_Chucks04e14hdtvOf course – as is often the case with these kind of things – there is a will-they-won’t-they romance running through the entire run, and yeah, Chuck (the show) was never the same once Chuck (the character) eventually got together with Sarah, the CIA agent who had been tasked with keeping him under control… but if you’ve seen Yvonne Strahovski, you’re probably wondering why it took him so many episodes to finally get his act together. I’d have made a fool of myself within the first forty-three minutes of the opening episode.

Chuck sometimes forgot the rules of its own premise, and it often replaced what was plausible for what was funny, but it was always a joy to watch, and the nature of the show meant that it was never predictable. The cast always looked like they were having blast, and it was infectious, and I was genuinely disappointed when it came to an end. Still, there are talks about a movie that may be in the works, and Chuck has the potential to be great on the big screen.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #7…

Noel’s House Party (1991 – 1999)

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Noel Edmonds and his sidekick…

Light entertainment shows are a bit scarce these days, and the genre has been all but forgotten in recent years. It won’t mean anything to anybody outside the UK, but in the nineties, if you weren’t out on a Saturday evening, you were in watching Noel’s House Party – probably the greatest show of its kind to come out of that decade. Yes, it was that good.

It’s a difficult show to describe, because there’s really nothing like it nowadays. Broadcast live, it was a semi-scripted show, set in an old mansion in the fictional village of Crinkley Bottom (yes, the ‘Carry On’ style humour was on full display – Noel’s House Party was as English as tea and crumpets). Each hour long episode would have regular segments, including short comedy skits, prize giveaways, pranks, phone in competitions, and of course, the ever popular gunge tank. I know, it sounds awful, but it had a singular charm that has not been replicated since. Noel Edmonds was the perfect host, and the format probably would have struggled under anyone else’s control.

In later years, Mr Blobby – the silly, pink and yellow polka dot character introduced in the second series in a supporting role – began to take up more and more space on the show, and the show began to steer south as a result. Blobby even had his own chart-topping single at one point, but the less said about that travesty the better.

With all the television reboots happening these days, I’m surprised nobody has brought this one back yet, but it’s a different audience now, and unfortunately I don’t think Noel’s House Party would work in 2017. Somewhere along the line, television forgot how to be fun. It’s true: they don’t make ’em like they used to.