Judge Cynthia Boris is looking for a fuel-efficient hybrid to chat with.
Our reviews of Knight Rider (1982): Season One (published August 23rd, 2004), Knight Rider: Season Two (published May 18th, 2005), and Knight Rider: Season Three (published May 10th, 2006) are also available.
It's Full-Throttle Action!
Continuing with the theme "everything old is new again," NBC/Universal presents Knight Rider, which should have a 2.0 or something after the name. It's a snazzier, high-tech version of the original '80's series with a brand new KITT car and a new young hunk behind the wheel. This ain't your father's Knight Rider, and not everyone's happy about that.
Facts of the Case
Charles Graiman (Bruce Davison, Close to Home) is in trouble. Bad guys are after him and the computer he created. It's the most sophisticated AI system in the world, and it's housed inside a Shelby GT500KR Mustang known as KITT (voiced by Val Kilmer, Batman Forever). When the bad guys overrun the house, KITT is smart enough to go for help and arrives just in time to save Graiman's daughter Sarah (Deanna Russo The Young and the Restless) from the same thugs who may have killed her father.
Desperate for help, Sarah goes to only person she can trust, Mike Traceur (Justin Bruening, All My Children). Mike is a former Marine with some gaps in his memory. What he does remember is the bad breakup with Sarah, but he puts his feelings aside in order to protect her and KITT. When it turns out that Graiman is alive, the three of them sign on as part of a secret government agency that will allow Graiman to further develop the AI system while Mike and KITT fight federal crime.
Knight Rider: Season One gives us the pilot movie plus 17 episodes. That's the whole First Season…sigh, let's face facts…it's the whole series, on DVD.
• "A Knight in Shining Armor"—a mysterious woman from Mike's past complicates his mission to intercept "The Package."
• "Journey to the End of the Knight"—Mike uses KITT to get in good with a bunch of drag racers who have ties to a smuggling ring.
• "A Hard Day's Knight"—Mike has only a few hours to live when he's poisoned while working a job.
• "Knight of the Hunter"—Mike pretends to be an AWOL Marine in order to locate a cache of stolen demolitions.
• "Knight of the Living Dead"—A Halloween prank? Or is there a murderer inside the K.I.T.T. cave?
• "I Wanna Rock and Roll All Knight"—Mike is on the trail of a pair of Natural Born Killer wannabes, one of whom is the daughter of a congressman.
• "Knight Fever"—When a computer virus infects KITT, Mike is on his own and up against the clock to stop it from spreading further.
• "Don't Stop the Knight"—Mike must rescue an Ambassador while Graiman deals with a dangerous new robot.
• "Day Turns Into Knight"—Mike is riding a bomb and it will go off if KITT's speed drops below 100 mph.
• "King to King's Pawn"—The NSA shuts down the KITT program but Mike, Sarah, Zoe and Billy aren't ready to call it quits. Richard Burgi (Desperate Housewives) guests.
• "Fight Knight"—It's Fight Club Knight Rider style. Tiki Barber guest stars.
• "Fly by Knight"—While investigating a crashed airplane, Mike finds a 10-year-old genius who is in real trouble.
• "Knight and the City"—Mike goes home to find trouble in his old neighborhood, the death of local bar owner, and several suspicious fires. Alona Tal (Supernatural) guest stars.
• "I Love the Knight Life"—Mike is on the trail of a super serum that turns normal men into hulked-out killers.
When talking Knight Rider, there are two essential elements: Michael Knight and KITT. Rather than "recast" these two roles, the producers decided to make this new series a sequel to the original. Knight Industries has moved on in their development process and thus we have the new Three Thousand Model. The new KITT car is a Mustang because Ford put up the dollars for a weekly one-hour ad. It's that simple. And, thanks to nano technology, the new KITT can change into a Ford pick-up truck, an armored attack vehicle, even a little Ford Focus if he wants to. He's got a self-healing skin that prevents damage from bullets, the ability to gas the person in the passenger seat while not knocking out the driver, and he has a 3-D replication insert that can make a handcuff key in nothing flat.
But what makes KITT a character and not just a car is his personality. I wasn't sold on the idea of Val Kilmer doing the voice, but it works beautifully. KITT goes from being a calm, factual voice in the face of danger in the early episodes to a moody, back-talking petulant child when he doesn't get his way later on in the season. It sounds silly, I know, but have you ever turned left when your GPS says to turn right? That lady gets very testy! Recalculating!
The other half of the team is Michael Knight, or in this case, Mike Traceur, the "estranged" son of the original. I liked the idea of a new, young Marine taking over where Hasselhoff left off, but the producers couldn't leave it alone. In order to make the title work, they have Traceur change his name to Michael Knight later in the season, and that was probably the point where a lot of people tuned out.
Stepping into The Hoff's shoes isn't easy, but soap star Justin Bruening does a good job. He's hunky, he's affable, and he has that boyish temperament that women adore. He also has to do 60% of his acting with only a recorded voice track and a blue screen to work off of. This kid deserves more credit than he's been given.
The other thing that really works in this new series is the look. From the details of the KITT cave to the huge driving stunts, to the fabulous use of multiple computer images flying across KITT's windshield as the story unfolds, the show is like a big, bright comic book come to life. And what's a comic book without humor? That honor goes to Billy (Paul Campbell, Battlestar Galactica) and Zoe (Smith Cho, Fired Up). Stuck behind a computer keyboard for most of the episodes, these two have the chore of turning exposition into a three-ring circus. Zoe's a flirt, Billy's a nerd (he dresses up as Captain Jack Harkness for Halloween—how much do you love that?), and yet it's their combined smarts that get Mike out of trouble time and time again. Definitely, my favorite characters.
As far as special features go, they play off the pilot movie as a big one, but I say that doesn't count. There are three featurettes, "The Icon Reborn," "K.I.T.T.: From 2000 to 3000," and "Knight Rider Legacy." They were all filmed during the making of the movie. Even the commentary by Bruening, Russo, and Executive Producer David Bartis was produced before the series began. I believe that all of these items were created for a pilot movie DVD which never happened.
The featurettes are the typical interviews intercut with behind the scenes footage and there are quite a few interesting tidbits about how the show was made. Sadly, by the time you get to the last featurette it looks and sounds just like the previous two. I did enjoy the commentary track. Though they're often difficult to hear, the group obviously has a real fondness for the project and they have a number of interesting stories to tell.
Looking at the DVD itself, Universal did a nice job with the packaging, which includes clear episode synopsis on the back of the fold out box. The navigation screens are clear and easy to use but I would have loved to see something fancier that better emulates the screens they use on the show. There's a lot going on in this series visually, and it looks great, as it should for a show this new. Sound on action shows can be a problem with car engines, gun fire and explosions that are too loud in comparison to the dialogue. That's not an issue here. I never felt the need to turn the sound up or down once.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If I could do Knight Rider over, I'd eliminate the first half of the season and begin when evil Transformer KARR steps into the mix. There were two many characters in the earlier part of the season, Sydney Tamiia Poitier was awful, Yancey Arias (who should have been great) didn't fit in, and no one wants to see the lone warrior working for the government.
All of those issues were corrected in the later part of the season when the show was paired down to Mike, Sarah, Billy and Zoe working for the troubled everyman instead of trying to stop terrorists week after week. It was much closer to the original idea; unfortunately, the change came too late in the run to regain the audience.
Battlestar Galactica has spoiled the world on remakes. Since that show came on the air, we expect all remakes of '70s and '80s TV shows to come up to that standard. If that's what you're looking for here, you're not going to find it. Where they were able to take a fluffy, action show like Galactica and turn it into a serious commentary on the human condition—the people behind Knight Rider took a fluffy, action show and turned it into a fluffy, action show but with cooler effects.
I fully admit that the dialogue is cheesy, some of the actors should have their SAG cards taken away, and the plots are mostly unbelievable. None of that interfered with my enjoyment of the show, but I can see how it might keep some people from climbing on board.
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