If the Devil gave David Hasselhoff one dollar for each chest hair, he'd be filthy rich. Hey, wait a minute...
Our reviews of Knight Rider (1982): Season One (published August 23rd, 2004), Knight Rider: Season Two (published May 18th, 2005), and Knight Rider (2008): Season One (published August 10th, 2009) are also available.
"K.I.T.T., I need ya buddy!"—Michael Knight
Universal has been on a tear lately, releasing to DVD the television shows that made our childhoods so thrilling. The show that held the fiercest grip on the fevered imaginations of ten-year-old boys was probably Knight Rider, the adventures of a young loner and his talking car. It had everything: a cool hero, plenty of ladies, explosions, fast driving—even machine guns, laser beams, and buried treasure. Knight Rider was ten-year-old male fantasy nirvana.
If you aren't in that rarefied group, then run. Run away as fast as you can, and don't stop until you reach Lost.
Facts of the Case
Michael Knight (The David Hasselhoff, Baywatch) is a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless. Fighting a world of criminals who operate above the law, he is capably aided by Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare, Out to Sea), his crusty boss, and Bonnie Barstow (Patricia McPherson, Star Trek: The Next Generation), the technological genius who can rebuild a supercar, add a laser diffuser to it, and completely redesign its dashboard and core features in the amount of time it takes Michael to change into a pink cashmere sweater. The supercar is K.I.T.T. (William Daniels, The Blue Lagoon), a black Pontiac T-top with a cool red LED thingy in front. Together, they fight crime and save damsels in distress, all without disrupting David Hasselhoff's perfect coiffure.
My childhood was dashed on the rocks of harsh reality when I reviewed Knight Rider: Season Two, so I don't know why I requested Season Three. I guess the pull of nostalgia is that strong. Somewhere in the back of my primitive memory a ten-year-old is saying "Dude, I'm not crazy, this show is awesome!"
While watching the shows that formed Season Three of this illustrious series, I often found myself unconsciously covering my face with my hands or hunched up on the edge of the cushion, unconsciously preparing to jump out of my seat. As a critic, I've come to trust that my body language is revealing my true reaction to a show. In this case, I was covering my face with my hands because the show was so abjectly awful that I was trying to defend myself from its assault. I was unconsciously leaning towards laundry, taxes, chopping wood…anything to get me out of there.
The season opener, "Knight of the Drones," is excruciating. For the first time in my professional career I considered simply not watching any more and writing off the series in sum. It features a dizzying array of roid-addled bodybuilders (The Barbarian Brothers, to be precise, who need to stop doing television right now), ethic stereotypes, and Dynasty second-stringers mixed up in an unintelligible crime caper. The gaps in logic, plot, and drama are so massive and impossible to ignore that I had trouble scraping together any coherent strain that might explain the consecutive scenes. It would make more sense if someone walked up and said "Stop or I'll shoot! Look, a turtle! So, are you gonna buy this car or what pal? I don't got all day." People state their objectives, then act completely counter to them. "I want to secretly steal this money…so I am going to let the police into my house, show them my secret weapon, and then let them go." It's as though the writers were bending over backwards to avoid cohesiveness. That's just plot. The acting, special effects, dialogue, and every other aspect that traditionally defines entertainment was equally bad.
With a force of will I continued to watch. Whether it be by contrast to the fetid putrescence of "Knight of the Drones" or actual improvement, later episodes showed a modest uptick in watchability. An early high point to the season is "K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.," which features the return of our favorite nemesis. Apparently, K.A.R.R. was simply beachcombing these last couple years. His glossy sheen is spotless. K.A.R.R. is an amusing and charismatic evil vehicle. He's like the game show host of mortal temptation, the One Ring of Pontiacs. His green LED voice panel is much cooler than K.I.T.T.'s tepid array of red LEDs, and his sexy auburn grill lights ooze calm menace. His temptation of the hapless bloke who found him is truly amusing.
Although its twist is obvious from grimace #1, "Knight in Disgrace" is kind of fun, too. Michael is cut loose from FLAG (that's Foundation for Law and Government for you non-fans). He immediately hooks up with the ultimate "I wanna be a Bond Villain" bad guy LaSalle. He kidnaps K.I.T.T. for nefarious criminal purpose. It is all in good fun, I suppose.
As the season wore on, I lost track of the number of times that K.I.T.T. was destroyed, Michael ran into a troubled dancer, someone from the past resurfaced, or Devon said "Michael, do be careful." I lost track of the times Bonnie waved some glowing thing or another and suddenly blessed K.I.T.T. with impossible powers. I lost track of how many '80s chic outfits Michael wore and how many times he furrowed his brow.
And I lost track of how many times the utterly wretched dialogue, shameful acting, and soul-deadening plot gaffes brought my hands up to my face in a protective gesture. At the worst times, Knight Rider reminded me of nothing so much as desperate high-school students whipping up a last minute comedy act for the Talent Show, or melodramatic kids playing cops and robbers with crude props. Sometimes, all that stood between me and a guy talking to a car was a few streaks of silver paint and some funny plastic shapes meant to indicate a highly advanced technical thingamajig. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but give us something to work with, Glen.
The third disc brought some relief, most notably in the form of "Knight Strike." This episode symbolizes Knight Rider at its best. For once, the plot makes some rudimentary form of sense. Michael's flashes of inspiration are not based in The School of Utter Nonsense, but are reasonable conclusions drawn from some form of evidence. K.I.T.T.'s abilities are brought to bear in a convincing way (surreptitious cheating in a shooting contest). There are sexy ladies and decent guest stars like Richard Herd (seaQuest DSV: Season One). Hasselhoff seems relaxed, unforced. Most of the plot doesn't arrive out of thin air from the hands of the television gods. For this one moment, Michael Knight is cool, he has a sexy car that talks, and it doesn't all seem ridiculous.
Then comes "Circus Knights" to end the season. It features, and I quote, "an evil clown who doesn't find his new troupe members so funny." An evil clown. How apropos.
Universal delivers this season with mixed results. I was stunned by how good the video transfer looked. It's inconsistent, sure: Plenty of scenes were marked by heavy grain and unstable colors. But many of the scenes were sparkling with detail, clean contrast, and bold, stable colors. It looked unbelievably good at times, and without a trace of the digital muckery that surely was used to clean things up.
I wish I could say the same for the sound, but the season is plagued by periodically missing words, music, and effects. Sometimes, Michael would say "Right, buddy?" and the camera would cut to K.I.T.T.—who just sat there like an overgrown paperweight. The music caught me off guard more than once, with big-time performers doing hit songs—or in most cases, covers of hit songs done by unknown artists who sound exactly like the real artists. A 2mm-high blurb on the back of the DVD set tells us that the set "Includes all original music except for two songs," which may or may not be a bad thing, depending.
If you consider a bonus episode an extra, then there are extras this time around. Though they aren't listed, I consider episode summaries and airdates to be a special feature; a step I appreciate Universal for taking. Now if only they'd ditch these pesky double-sided discs…
It starts with Cro-Magnon, bodybuilding non-actors and ends with an evil clown. The middle is chock full of schlock. There is little chance that a semi-lucid adult will be able to tolerate Knight Rider: Season Three. But if you retain a shred of the kid who loved the show in the '80s, care nothing for plot continuity, and have no grasp on how technology actually works, you might get a kick out of it.
The court requires a recess to tabulate just how many ways this show is guilty. We will return for sentencing in a week.
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Scales of Justice
• Bonus Episode: Knight of the Rising Sun
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