The reviews for NBC’s new Knight Rider, premiering tonight at 8pm, have been mostly negative. TV critics seem determined to mock its cheesiness, implausibility and general lack of coherence. The frustrating thing is that those critics don’t seem to understand the context in which Knight Rider should be viewed.
To compare the series to other serious dramas is a mistake. One cannot review Knight Rider using the same criteria one uses when reviewing Mad Men or Lost. Is Knight Rider cheesy? Of course it is, but why should that surprise anyone? This is a show about a talking car that solves crimes.
A more accurate review would judge Knight Rider on the basis of what it’s trying to accomplish. The show has no delusions that it will win an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series or top the critics’ “best of” lists at the end of the year. Knight Rider is about fun. It’s a show with sexy stars in ridiculously dire circumstances getting into fast car chases. On that basis, Knight Rider is a rousing success.
That’s due in large part to showrunner Gary Scott Thompson, who came on after the two-hour TV movie. Thompson is the creator of Las Vegas, the hit NBC show that ran for five seasons and proved that audiences love watching pretty people in absurd circumstances. He wrote the first two Fast and the Furious movies, which tossed attractive movie stars into fast cars and let moviegoers have some mindless fun for two hours. Thompson is a master of mass appeal, TV’s own version of Michael Bay. Knight Rider has the formula down cold.
Step 1: Sexy Stars in a Complicated Romantic Relationship
Justin Bruening and Deanna Russo play former lovebirds whose relationship was cut short after he went to Iraq and experienced lost time due to some strange government conspiracy. They are certainly attractive (both have a background in soap operas) and the relationship works on the simple premise that their emotional issues keep them apart.
Step 2: A Respected Actor Providing Exposition
Bruce Davison accomplishes this task nicely, offering warnings of the dire consequences if the team’s mission should fail. If his dialogue sounds overwrought or absurd, it’s because this is a show where KITT can transform into any kind of car and there are always bad guys trying to get their hands on nuclear secrets.
Step 3: Comic Relief
Paul Campbell and Smith Cho have fun as the quick-witted nerds who oversee KITT’s technical well-being, and their light-hearted sexual chemistry provides a respite from the world-saving heroics of the team.
Step 4: Government Conspiracy
Why does Mike have large gaps of missing time in his memory from his three years in Iraq? Why do the bad guys all seem to recognize him? Why is the boss, Alex Torres, always looking so suspicious? To find out the answers to these and many other questions, you need to keep watching.
Step 5: Car Chases and Explosions
This is a lesson Michael Bay perfected over the years: audiences love watching huge explosions and fast car chases. Knight Rider does both within the first act of the premiere, and will continue to deliver every week.
With those five simple steps, Gary Scott Thompson has created a perfect show to allow viewers to turn off their brains, grab a bag of popcorn, and feel like they’re watching a summer blockbuster in their living room every Wednesday night.
-John Kubicek, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Images courtesy of NBC)