Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Knight Rider Revisited

You know, Knight Rider is nowhere near as cheesy as I remember it.  I speak, of course, of the original TV series with David Hasselhoff and his fruity voiced 1982 Trans Am.  There were several later spin offs, including Team Knight Rider and a sequel Knight Rider series, which starred someone I can't remember and in which KITT had turned into a late model Mustang voiced by Val Kilmer.  They were all pretty awful.  Thankfully we at least haven't been subjected to one of those big screen 're-imaginings' of the series.  Give it time, though.  There's nothing Hollywood likes better these days than trashing your childhood memories by destroying your favourite TV series' in this way.  But to return to the point, the original series is actually still quite watchable.  Well, series one is, at least.  Forces TV have been re-running Knight Rider for a while now, but only seem to have the rights to the first series, every episode of which they seem have shown at least a dozen times over the past few weeks. (True Entertainment seem to have a similar situation with The Man From Uncle: they keep showing series two over and over again).

Sure, it's all very generic plot-wise, but that was the norm for episodic TV series back in the eighties.  This was the era before the concept of 'story arcs' had become entrenched.  Each episode was a self contained story, the only references to earlier episodes lying in the title sequence and accompanying narration, which, as briefly as possible, re-iterated the series' basic premise.  The idea being that it didn't matter if viewers missed an episode, there was no continuity to be disrupted (an important consideration in the days before home recording was common).  Moreover, it meant that it was easier for new viewers to pick up a series mid-season (too much backstory crucial to the narrative could easily put prospective viewers off  - certainly, that's the reason I never got into the X Files: by the time I became aware of it, there was so much back story that I just couldn't be arsed to catch up with).  Back in the day, US TV series used to get all of their backstory out of the way in the pilot episode - Knight Rider's pilot, for example, established the whole background of the Knight Foundation, KITT the car and the lead character's change of identity to become Michael Knight, as played by Hasselhoff, leaving the subsequent series free to get on with chronicling his adventures.

Although these adventures were pretty generic and interchangeable with those experienced by the protagonists of similar series, Knight Rider survives better for a number of reasons.  Most notably, it has a far lighter touch than contemporaries like Street Hawk or Air Wolf., which now come over as incredibly po-faced.  (Air Wolf, in particular, seems badly dated, with its cold war focus and stilted dialogue).  Also, unlike Air Wolf (again), Knight Rider isn't an obvious attempt to cash in on a movie with a similar set up (Blue Thunder - which also had its own, official, TV version, was clearly the inspiration for Air Wolf).  Most of all, Knight Rider benefits from a god leading performance.  And yes, I mean David Hasselhoff, not the car.  Here, early in his career, (before the singing), he gives an easy going, charismatic performance, seemingly knowing not to take himself or the series too seriously.   That said, it stays on the right side of camp, never becoming too ridiculous.  Sure, if you watch enough episodes over a short period of time, the repetitiveness of the scripts becomes apparent, but that's true of any TV series of its kind, but Knight Rider remains a reasonably pleasurable and undemanding way to while away an hour or so.

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