When Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger asks his Honda to engage the turbo boost, it just laughs and says, "Who do you think I am, K.I.T.T.?"
Our reviews of Knight Rider (1982): Season One (published August 23rd, 2004), Knight Rider: Season Three (published May 10th, 2006), and Knight Rider (2008): Season One (published August 10th, 2009) are also available.
Knight Rider. A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man…who does not exist.
The 1980s found me glued to the television set, soaking in campy shows like The A Team, MacGyver, Tales of the Gold Monkey, and Fantasy Island. But the most audaciously campy, unapologetically cheesy, technolust-infused series to infect my impressionable young brain was Knight Rider. I bought it whole hog. I dreamed of driving a car like KITT, bearing the burden of a secret life like Michael Knight's. In short, Knight Rider was it. I tell you this now so that later, when I'm bashing the hell out of the show, you understand that I came from a history of fandom.
Facts of the Case
Knight Rider details the exploits of Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff, internationally renowned cheese salesman extraordinaire), a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, and the powerless in a world of criminals who operate above the law. ("Loner" and "crusade" would seem to be mutually exclusive terms, but we won't split hairs.) Michael is aided by his trusty steed K.I.T.T. (voice of William Daniels, The Graduate), a Pontiac Trans Am with optional extras such as turbo boost, water wings, parachutes, fire-resistant coating, ejector seats, a handy "analyzer," and more. K.I.T.T. (or KITT, if you aren't into periods) is the Swiss army knife of cars: He can talk, think, drive himself—and make jokes. ("Banana-headed bovine," for example.)
If Michael Knight is the knight and KITT is the steed (get it? Knight Rider?), then Devon (Edward Mulhare, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) and April (Rebecca Holden, General Hospital) are the king and queen of the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG). Devon does helpful things like tell Michael not to do anything rash, while April assists by waving a plastic light rod over KITT's finish (until Bonnie's sabbatical is over, that is).
Michael's exploits take the same general form. An innocent young lady struggles to make it on her own. Her son/brother/father/uncle/friend/auto mechanic, whom she loves deeply, is in over his head, deep into trouble with a gang of highly organized criminals with unlimited capital and spiffy turtlenecks. The desperate woman enlists the aid of the FLAG (or, more often than not, Michael just shows up on her doorstep) to rescue her wayward man. Michael discovers that a dangerous, calculating figure is at the heart of a nefarious plot (which usually involves lost treasure or technology). Michael races to intercept this dark kingpin, leaping over semis and other obstacles with his turbo boost, just in time to rescue the victim and restore the young lady's familial balance. Michael receives a quick peck, the girl wonders if she'll ever see him again, and Michael slinks back into the shadows to drive another day.
Knight Rider became wildly popular during its run, and still enjoys residual fame. The show arrived at a time when formula was acceptable, plot holes were ignored by the audience, and face value ruled the day. David Hasselhoff's now-famous charisma was just entering the global consciousness, and he rode the wave into Baywatch and beyond.
Season Two is the pinnacle of Knight Rider, the season of infamy: Bonnie replaced by April. Michael's evil twin Garthe, and KITT's gargantuan nemesis Goliath. Michael's amnesia. Michael against KITT. Many of our most enduring memories of the show were formed in this season, and Knight Rider fans will want to own this set. The episodes contained in Season Two are:
• Episode 23: "Goliath: Part 1"
I desperately want to tell you that Knight Rider inspires a surge of nostalgic glee that allows me to overlook the show's flaws. Knight Rider is as it always has been, a ridiculous romp of autoerotic fantasy. The jokes have not deteriorated with time, the action has not grown stale…it has always been like this. And by "like this," I mean exponentially bad. Part of me, the ten-year-old part, experiences a thrill when Michael and KITT joke ominously before turbo boosting to meet their desperate fates. But the adult part, which I hope forms the majority of my personality these days, can think of nothing but Friends character Joey Tribbiani's ill-fated television series Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E. It is clear to me now that the Friends writers were writing an oblique parody of Knight Rider when they penned their ludicrous fake show about a smarmy rogue crime fighter and his mechanical pal C.H.E.E.S.E.
You may have a different experience. You may lack my cynicism, or have a greater capacity to forgive gross missteps and enjoy this series with all the innocence recalled from your young heart. I hope you can, because Knight Rider is very cool. It has gadgets, a talking car, a hero's hero, and the geek's dream girl in April Curtis. There are stunts, and more stunts, and even more stunts. Please, drink up the spectacle with my compliments.
Yet I will stay behind and gripe. I'm no longer ten, and in the intervening years I've learned about things like plot, acting, internal consistency, and technology. Knight Rider knows none of these things. Looking for plot? Pick an episode at random, there is your plot. Acting? The guest stars are as stiff as a high spring rate suspension, while the series leads make soap opera seem like Shakespeare. Seriously. I knew the acting was bad, but I was not prepared for the intensity of this assault. Edward Mulhare crafts Devon with an arch accent and hairy raised eyebrows. Patricia McPherson complained that Bonnie had nothing to do but smile pretty and joke with KITT—she left the show, so they got someone else to smile pretty and joke with KITT.
And David Hasselhoff…if he didn't have those long, lanky legs, tight jeans to show off his impossibly tight butt, piercing hazel/green/blue eyes with gauzy lashes, and a perfect coiffure of wavy locks, we might not be here discussing this show at all. Oh, I forgot the stunning white teeth. And the chest hair. I'm not saying that Hasselhoff is all looks: He has charisma and charm as well. But his acting is, to be kind, subpar. He obviously has the instincts and the magnetism to marshal millions of fans and dollars, and more power to him, but he didn't do it through acting prowess. In fact, every time I watched David act by furiously wrinkling his brow in concern while he talked to a watch, dashboard, or mobile television with KITT inside, I experienced a mixture of sadness and pity. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
That leaves us with internal consistency, which I'm not even going to get into, and technology, which I will. For a show that thrives on technology, the writers sure don't understand it.
The opening episode in Season Two, "Goliath," is but one example of the gross suspension of disbelief required to tolerate this show. We won't go into the hows and whys, but KITT is upended in the desert, with Michael thrown into a crumpled heap of sweat and blood. KITT's engine is shot all to hell. Michael quips that he wished he knew something about cars, and then pulls out KITT's emergency schematics. "KITT," he says with a straight face, "I'm gonna jury rig a ramjet." Just like that. In the desert, with no tools and a desiccated shell of a car to work with, Michael is going to single-handedly convert KITT to a ramjet-powered vehicle? I love camp as much as the next jaded critic, but this I cannot overlook. But it is only the first episode. How about the episode where KITT's axles are slightly modified, which enables him to "hydroplane" over choppy ocean waves? How about Michael converting a "laser power pack" to an offensive weapon (again, in the field with no tools)? These are modifications, but the basic technology is impressive as well. As an employee of a biological research lab, I'd love to get my hands on KITT's "analyzer," a shoebox with the ability to determine chemical compositions, find molecular defects, and perform other refined analyses.
There is one moment that brings together everything that is wrong with Knight Rider. If you can get past this, you can get past anything, but be warned that it is a spoiler for "Soul Survivor." KITT has been gutted like a carp. An evil temptress and her computer whiz sidekick ripped out KITT's Central Processing Unit. The temptress Adrianne obtained KITT by luring Michael to a mansion by the coast. Michael and Devon return to the scene, but it has been completely emptied out. The furniture is gone, along with the art on the walls, the cars…not so much as a whiff of Adrianne's perfume remains.
Michael and Devon walk out of the house, but Michael stops short. He holds out his hands like a divining rod, and whispers intently that he…feels…something. A presence…KITT was here! Michael and Devon walk into the garage, guided by Michael's psychic hands, and find KITT's CPU in a cardboard box full of rags. Let me get this straight…arch-villainess Adrianne desperately wants to hack KITT. She went to the trouble of completely moving everything from the house to cover her tracks. Yet she leaves KITT's CPU in the garage? Doesn't this invalidate both of her carefully planned goals? And what's up with Michael's newfound psychic abilities? It is too much inconsistency for me to bear.
Putting aside my insistence on logic for a moment, Season Two delivers some of the most memorable episodes in the series, both good and bad. David Hasselhoff's turn as the evil Garthe Knight is absolutely hysterical. His deadpan malice and butterfly collar are perfectly pulled together. Where Michael is sunny but determined, Garthe is unflappably evil but determined. Michael is breezy but intelligent, while Garthe is brooding but intelligent. Jung would have a field day. Ann Turkel employs her considerable television experience to craft the series' most memorable villainess, Adrianne St.Clair/Margeaux. In a triple-threat knightmare, Garthe, Goliath, and Adrianne join forces in "Goliath Returns," a tag-team match of WWF proportions. Season Two gives us a nod to Blue Thunder in "Merchants of Death"; if you ever wondered whether Blue Thunder or KITT is tougher, here's your answer. Amnesia is a hoary chestnut that still lands big, and I admit that I immensely enjoyed watching Michael Knight revert to Michael Long in "Knightmares."
There are also episodes that are bad even by Knight Rider's standards. A few are arguable, but almost every Knight Rider fan on the planet will be quick to discredit the two-parter of pure agony known as "Mouth of the Snake" Parts One and Two. This stinker is Knight Rider without the Knight or the Ride. Michael and KITT take a back seat to an ill-fated spin-off series pilot. The less said, the better.
The season is relatively consistent. It starts with a bang, introducing the memorable Garthe and Goliath. That's the good news. The bad news is, I remember the melodramatic intensity of the Trans Am–Big Rig showdown, and the reality is anticlimactic. The setup takes about 10 seconds, and Michael basically drives into Goliath. It wasn't nearly as exciting as I recall. Otherwise, the two-part opener is just like a regular episode interspersed with long minutes of footage where scientist-mechanics weld pipes onto a truck. I was checking my watch frequently.
With that padded, but ultimately enjoyable, opener out of the way, the series proper unfolds in a string of mediocre, periodically good, yet always cheesy episodes. The season actually has few outright clunkers. The real problem is the lack of a gripping finale. "Goliath Returns" is the natural choice, a logical bookend to the opening of the season. Instead, they place "Goliath Returns" in the middle somewhere and pad out the time with a repulsive spin-off attempt, a Hasselhoff-as-pop-singer vehicle, and two lackluster episodes. The episode distribution makes little sense.
As a DVD package, Knight Rider: Season Two isn't particularly impressive. There are no extras, which is highly disappointing in light of the fan favorite episodes in this season and the healthy slate of extras on Season One. The audio suffers from frequent static, clipping, and dropouts. The video hovers between decent and "My eyes! My poor eyes!" level quality. Some scenes look as though the film stock was dragged behind KITT on a gravel road. Fortunately, the badly damaged sections are kept to a minimum, but it is obvious that little cleanup has been done.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is often fun to go star searching when viewing older shows. The biggest name in Season Two is Geena Davis. There's the obligatory Trek sighting in the form of a young Daphne Ashbrook, who went on to play birdwoman Ensign Melora in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Two. Otherwise, there aren't a whole lot of "a-ha!" moments.
The theme song is absolutely fantastic. The power disco beat is infectious and gets your body moving. The world-weary voiceover that introduces the series is equally great. They rank among my all-time favorites. Otherwise, the music in the series varies wildly. Most of the music is nondescript technopop tones that barely establish mood, or do so in the grossest form possible: Good guy, violins; bad guy, squealing bass notes. Yet Knight Rider features songs from artists like Sting and The Rolling Stones, which is impressive and effective.
Michael and KITT have their moments. Totally manufactured and corny, but effective nonetheless.
The only draw in this boxed set is the material. There are no extras or audiovisual inducements. This is the best season of Knight Rider, so fans will want to pick it up. Just be aware that your childhood memories may not be enough to support the weight of disbelief inspired by this abjectly illogical, plot-hole-riddled series filled with the same "let's jump over stuff" stunt repeated ad nauseam. I wanted to love it again, and Knight Rider provided a healthy dose of bemused laughter and melodramatic thrill—but it makes me question my younger tastes.
Sorry, buddy, but I gotta make this call…guilty.
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