Thanks to my insomnia and On Demand by Cox, I got to watch the series premiere of Knight Rider a week early. Though I saw the original pilot movie some months ago, I was completely surprised by what I saw on this second take for the series. It was crazy, almost campy, and loaded with cheesy 80’s action. In other words, it was perfect viewing for four o’clock in the morning and I gotta say, I liked it.
Let me preface any more remarks by saying that I’m a HUGE fan of what I consider to be the gold standard of 80’s action shows, The A-Team. You know how in that show they were always getting into these enormous firefights with the bad guys, flipping cars, blowing stuff up and yet no one ever got hurt — Knight Rider is like that. It’s Chuck meets The Dukes of Hazzard and instead of running from the cliches of the era, they’re running toward them and I find that incredibly refreshing.
RETOOLING THE PILOT
Executive producers Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “The Bourne Identity”) and Gary Scott Thompson (“Las Vegas,” “The Fast and The Furious”) are pretty smart cookies. They took the criticism of the earlier pilot film to heart and made some major changes. In the first pilot, Mike Tracer (Justin Bruening) was a jaded ex-Army Ranger who was brought in by childhood friend Sarah (Deanna Russo), a Stanford grad, help protect her father and KITT.
The plot was very ‘you and me’ against the world and it plodded along at a fairly slow clip.
Not so in the new pilot, dubbed “Knight in Shining Armor.” (And it looks like all of the episodes will have Knight names — I love that.) This time around, Mike and KITT are backed-up with a whole Batcave full of computer equipment and technicians. What they did minimally on Bionic Woman, they do here to the nth degree.
The special effects here really are the stars of the show. From KITT’s ability to transform into a variety of modes and the virtual environment of the KITT cave, it’s like Barnum and Bailey was the production designer — or at least Irwin Allen. My favorite little trick was watching computer geek Billy Morgan (Paul Campbell) “throw” computer images from a table top display up on to vertical displays around his station. And can we talk for just a moment about the stunt driving team? Knight Rider is a show about a car, so you know it’s going to be loaded with chases, close calls and hairpin turns and these guys make it look easy.
Okay, now stop. I can hear some of you out there snickering. And one guy is actually screaming at his computer saying that I’m off my rocker. I get it — it’s not West Wing. It’s not Lost. It’s not even Chuck because it lacks the witty writing. But I say, not all TV has to keep your mind working overtime. I love Fringe, but I come away with a headache, same for Sarah Connor. Not so, here.
TROUBLE IN THE KITT CAMP
Let me point out the trouble spots before you dub me totally insane.
Plot. It sort of has one. In an effort to hit the ground running, the episode opens with Mike and Sarah at a swanky party where the goal is to steal “The Package” and a set of computer files and get out before security notices. If they ever said why any of this was important, I don’t remember, so there’s that.
The unexpected (for Mike and Sarah) twist comes when a mysterious woman and her comrades (in the 60’s they all would have had Russian accents) chase after Mike in order to “get Mike,” not “The Package” as you would assume. But why? What do they know that we don’t? That Mike has a secret in his past, something he did back when he was a solider? That is apparently a big part of the new story arc and it’s mildly intriguing but since this is really a show about a car, it’s all just a MacGuffin that allows them to do really cool things with KITT while he’s being chased.
Trouble spot number two: the bad guys fire a weapon at KITT which engulfs the car in a nuclear flame that will eventually broil Sarah and Mike (who are inside the car) and destroy the KITT Cave and everyone in it if they attempt to get home. Get ready for cheesy 80’s twist. The rising temperatures inside the car force Sarah and Mike to strip down to their underwear so we can have a typically awkward sexual tension moment between our two heroes. You gotta love it.
Trouble spot number three: the continuous use of bad green screen driving effects. On the other hand, when you’re talking crazy 80’s TV, these obvious green screen shots are sort of part of the joy, aren’t they?
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE
When it comes right down to it the new Knight Rider is one joke away from being The Middleman. It’s almost a parody of 80’s action shows but not quite. And I’m not sure if that helps or hurts.
Me? I enjoyed a full hour of implausible action with a charming, cute hero and neat special effects. Did I come away from it enriched or deep in thought about man’s inhumanity to man? No. But like I said earlier, does every show have to come with a message?
I’ve got a message for you straight from KITT, “don’t worry, be happy.”
Knight Rider premieres on Wednesday, September 24 on NBC but you can see it right now on Hulu.com and OnDemand through a variety of cable providers.
NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth
Originally posted at SFUniverse.com