Greetings to the New Show: “Knight Rider”

Well, I might as well start off this entry with the bit I wrote about the return of “Knight Rider” to series television in my Fall TV Preview:

After the incredibly disappointing TV movie earlier this year, which played like a two-hour-long car commercial with a really bad script, there is absolutely no rational reason for my including this within my top 10, but, dammit, sometimes nostalgia wins out over common sense. It is almost certainly telling that the powers that be couldn’t manage to get us a copy of the first episode prior to a network conference call to promote the series, and I will be the first to bail out if the premiere is as bad as the movie was, but – God help me – I can still remember how much enjoyment I got out of the original series, and I cannot for the life of me shake that off.

Well, NBC finally managed to produce an advance screener of the first episode, and…well, it’s not as bad as the movie, but it’s still a far cry from “great,” that’s for damned sure.

It’s one thing to turn on the television set and turn off your mind, but based on its premiere episode, it looks like “Knight Rider” is shaping up to be about as scientifically plausible as…uh…wow, I’m trying to think of a sufficiently ridiculous example, and I just can’t come up with one that I’m comfortable with. Suffice it to say that your average automotive engineer would probably find this the most hysterical hour of television to emerge in the past few decades.

As executive producer Gary Scott Thompson underlined repeatedly during the TCA panel for the show, the series is being viewed as an opportunity to start completely fresh, thereby giving them carte blanche to ignore the events within the TV movie that was shredded by virtually every critic on the planet. I think it’s fair to say that most of those critics will react in approximately the same way to the premiere, “A Knight in Shining Armor,” but there’s a sensibility to it all that I can imagine fans of straight-to-video action flicks embracing…and, yes, that is about the highest praise I’m able to offer it, but if you know how much I myself enjoy the guilty pleasure of straight-to-video action flicks, then you’ll know that there really is a compliment hidden in there somewhere.

In case you didn’t catch the aforementioned TV movie, here’s all you need to know. Mike Tracer (Justin Bruening) is the son of the original Michael Knight…and, no, there’s no sign of The Hoff anywhere in this episode, so don’t waste your time looking for him. Tracer is a former Army ranger who’s now working for Knight Industries as some sort of industrial spy…I think. It’s not really explained what he does for them or why he does it, but when the episode begins, he’s at a party with his partner, Sarah Graiman (Deanna Russo), sporting a tux and trying to pick up a top-secret package that they’re to bring back to home base. Unsurprisingly, things go wrong, and it leads to the first car chase sequence of what we can only presume will be many. We also get to see KITT repeatedly utilizing his shape-changing technology, with one such change occurring with Michael and Sarah inside. I was distracted for several seconds after this particular change, as it left me imagining worst-case scenarios for what could happen to them if, say, one of their arms got caught up the fluctuating metal. Ouch.

I’ll give the show runners credit for one thing: they found an enjoyably ludicrous excuse for getting both Bruening and Russo down to their undergarments within the first 20 minutes of the episode, with KITT being covered with a new type of napalm which increases his internal temperature to life-threatening levels. And speaking of those 20 minutes, I’m sure the producers were patting each other on the back over the amount of action they packed into that amount of time, but, really, you can only wring so much tension out of placing a show’s leads in mortal danger in a show’s first episode. What, like they’re really going to kill them off?

Well, actually, by the end of the first episode, Mike Tracer is dead…but as to how and why it comes to pass, I’ll leave that for you to discover for yourself.

As for the show’s supporting cast, I can’t say I’m not thrilled that Bruce Davison agreed to reprise his role as scientist Charles Graiman on a weekly basis; he’s a guy who can both deliver the goods as an actor and deliver preposterous dialogue like he’s spouting the Gospel. There are a pair of computer geeks – Billy Morgan (Paul Campbell) and Zoe Chase (Smith Cho) – who aren’t nearly as funny as they’re probably supposed to be, unfortunately, with Billy playing the nervous nerd and Zoe serving as the sarcastic bitch. He’s in love with her, she knows it and loves to tease him about it, and I think we can presume that they’ll end up sleeping together during Sweeps, if not before.

The attempt at a knowing wink at the audience to show that the producers realize how far automotive technology has come since the original series (“Dude, the car’s talking to us.” “Big deal: my car talks to me. It’s called GPS.”) feels painfully scripted, and the majority of the characters tend to speak in cliches, throwing out lines like, “That was awesome,” but the script isn’t without occasional wit…and, usually, it comes from KITT, who’s still being voiced by Val Kilmer. I actually laughed out loud when Michael tried to stop KITT from submitting too much info back to the base, saying, “Ixnay on the surveillance footage-ay,” and KITT asked, “Michael, why are you speaking Pig Latin…incorrectly?”

Like I said, I won’t spoil the end of the episode for you, but within the course of this first hour, it’s clear that a major recurring theme of this season will be Michael’s amnesia…because, of course, there’s no plot device more fresh than memory loss…and he’ll no doubt be spending the majority of his time trying to fill in the blanks from his past.

I gotta tell ya, I have no idea about the chances of success for “Knight Rider.” Even though it’s just ridiculous enough for me to be interested in catching the occasional episode, it seems less like a network series and more like something that would thrive in syndication. And, yet, you never know what mainstream America will make into a hit. If I had to guess, I’d say the first few episodes will do well enough for it to earn a pick-up of its back nine, then the ratings will start to drop.

When that happens, expect David Hasselhoff’s agent to get a phone call.

  

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