Anthony's Film Review

Knight Rider
(TV Series, 1982-1986)

Knight Rider is a decent show with action-packed fun...

Quick. Name an action hero who fights bad guys with a high-tech car. If you answered James Bond with his legendary Aston Martin DB5 or Batman with his Batmobile, I would say that's an acceptable answer. But what if I were to ask you to name an action hero with a high-tech car who is not a movie action hero and not a superhero? More specifically, name a non-superhero action hero with a high-tech car on a television show. Whether you can answer that depends on how well you know TV shows. For me, one definitely comes to mind: the 1980s hit TV show Knight Rider, created by Glen A. Larson.

The first thing to note is that the car in Knight Rider is more of a defensive and investigative tool than an attack weapon. For one thing, the exterior of the vehicle, a modified 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am, is an ultra-powerful molecular bonding shell that can remain undamaged even as the car is hit by bullets and explosions or crashes through concrete walls. This nearly indestructible car can certainly protect its driver. There are a few occasionally used features like smoke screen and oil slick, but again, the car's main objective is to protect and assist its master. Speaking of the latter, the car has a supercomputer with highly advanced artificial intelligence and numerous features, like a scanner to detect people from a distance, the ability to control the car without the driver, access to police and government records, and analyzers for trace substances and tire tracks. And this computer talks, too. Therefore, the car is one of the show's main characters, and it has a name: KITT, short for the Knight Industries Two Thousand.

As shown in the pilot episode, Las Vegas police detective Michael Long is gunned down while on assignment and left for dead. But he wakes up in a hospital bed in a mysterious place, and makes three startling discoveries. First, he was given plastic surgery to change his face. Second, he is given a new name: Michael Knight. As for the third, the person who chose to save Michael's life is a billionaire named Wilton Knight, who has founded the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG), a private alternative law enforcement agency. Now presumed to be dead, Michael is given a chance to fight crime once again, under a new name for a new organization, with the aid of KITT the super car, director Devon Myles, and a female technician (Bonnie Barstow in Seasons 1, 3, and 4, or April Curtis in Season 2).

Together, Michael and KITT take on investigative assignments that put them up against all sorts of bad guys. The villains in Knight Rider come in a wide variety, like James Bond's villains, but at the same time, they range from big-time masterminds to small-scale offenders. Michael and KITT encounter the forces of weapons dealers, terrorists, biker gangs, crooked auto racing organizers, a criminal magician, a cat burglar, computer hackers, a counterfeit money producer, greedy landowners, a mysterious society of intellectuals, and much more. Each adventure has Michael getting clues and meeting witnesses like any investigator would, but with greater advantage thanks to KITT's advanced features. If a situation gets dangerous, Michael can drive away in KITT while fully protected.

And this is where I talk about one feature of KITT I didn't mention before: Turbo Boost. Thanks to a hidden jet propulsion system, the car has the ability to launch itself into the air, while moving or from a stationary position. This allows Michael in KITT's driver seat to leap over barriers, jump wide gaps, fly over oncoming vehicles, crash through tall barriers, and get himself out of a tight enclosure surrounding the car. Occasionally, Michael will use Turbo Boost to drive super fast on the road. This ability is later achieved by a new feature of KITT in the show's fourth season: Super Pursuit Mode.

While the show isn't an explosive classic, it's still fun to watch. For one thing, the cast is memorable: David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, William Daniels as the voice of KITT (an uncredited role at the time, per the actor's request), Edward Mulhare as Devon Miles, Patricia McPherson as Bonnie Barstow, Rebecca Holden as April Curtis, and Peter Parros as the young assistant Reginald "RC3" Cornelius III in Season 4. It's also fun to get a new type of villain and adventure in each episode. While most villains in Knight Rider feel like average villains, at least the show's writers inject some originality by throwing the characters into unique situations. In certain episodes, you may see KITT actually getting damaged or dismantled, Michael seeing the woman he was going to marry before Michael Long supposedly died, Bonnie hypnotized to be evil, Devon being replaced by an imposter, or Michael having amnesia, just to name some examples. Now, if you were to ask me what my favorite Knight Rider episodes are, they would undoubtedly be the ones featuring the two most memorable Knight Rider villains.

One of those villains is Garthe Knight, the son of Wilton Knight who sadly had turned criminal. This man, also played by David Hasselhoff, provided the likeness for Michael to assume after plastic surgery turning him from Michael Long to Michael Knight. Obviously, Garthe is bitter that his own father would not accept him, which is why, in the two-part Season 2 premiere episode "Goliath," Garthe steals the Foundation's formula for KITT's molecular bonding shell and then creates his own super tough vehicle: a giant semi-truck called Goliath. This vehicle not only serves as a weapon for his evil scheme, but also a weapon against KITT. Though Michael and KITT ultimately win the day, Garthe makes a comeback later in the same season, in the two-part episode "Goliath Returns" in which he is sprung from prison and launches another scheme with the aid of Goliath. What's interesting is that, even though Goliath does not have a supercomputer and is still a manually driven vehicle, you can sort of think of that giant truck as another Knight Rider villain.

The other memorable villain of the show is also a doppleganger, this time an evil twin of KITT named KARR, the Knight Automated Roving Robot. KARR was developed by the Foundation as a prototype, before it was replaced by KITT. That's because KARR, unlike KITT, was not programmed with the rule of protecting human life. That plus the machine's self-awareness and independent thought would make KARR a menacing vehicle, which was why he was locked up in a FLAG storage room. That is, until the Season 1 episode "Trust Doesn't Rust" when two thieves decide to break into the Foundation and end up freeing KARR from captivity. In this episode, as well as the sequel episode "K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R." in Season 3, Michael and KITT scramble to stop KARR from doing damage. It may take a combination of speed and wit, plus perhaps a precisely aimed laser, to stop KARR once and for all. The evilness of KARR isn't just shown by what it does, but by how frightening it sounds when it talks. KARR is easily an unforgettable Knight Rider villain like Garthe Knight with Goliath.

I imagine that many fans would rate Knight Rider as average or somewhat above average. I would put it in the latter category, mainly because the show often presents new ideas to avoid being a truly monotonous formulaic series. Obviously, I can't rate the show higher because the action avoids being too explosive and intense. I don't blame the writers and crew at all. That's just the way TV had to be in the 1980s. At least the show does what it's supposed to do: make itself look fun without taking itself too seriously. It's entertaining enough that I wish I could have a car like KITT. Imagine what one can do with all of that protection and all of those high-tech features.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Knight Rider, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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