Saturday 27 July 2019

Knight Rider season 2 (1983)

Knight Rider season 2 takes up where season 1 left off, with a few very minor differences. The main change is that Patricia McPherson, who played genius girl engineer/mechanic Bonnie Barstow in the first season, has departed. Her place is taken by Rebecca Holden who plays genius girl engineer/mechanic April Curtis. This was an unfortunate change. Bonnie Barstow as a character was just about believable and she was a good fit for the series. April is not the slightest bit convincing.

The formula otherwise is unchanged. Since it worked pretty well there was of course no reason to change it.

The key to understanding why Knight Rider worked is that it’s a buddy show, but instead of having two human cops or secret agents or amateur crime-fighters it has a human hero and a robot hero (or at least a robot car hero). But Michael and K.I.T.T. really are partners and buddies. And they make a particularly interesting combination because they both have strengths and weaknesses. Michael is brave and resourceful but he’s not a superhero and her has no superpowers. K.I.T.T. does have superpowers but there are many things that K.I.T.T. can’t do, being a car. So they complement each other and that’s something they both figure out very early on. It’s the partnership between them that makes them formidable enemies to the bad guys. Michael Knight is not a hero who drives a car fitted out with some cool gadgets (like James Bond’s cars). K.I.T.T. is an actual character, and a key one. Which makes the series a lot more interesting.

Of course there had been plenty of TV series with non-human characters (witches, genies, Martians, etc) but they were invariably sitcoms and the non-human characters behaved pretty much like human characters. Knight Rider was one of the earliest series to feature a non-human character who is genuinely non-human and completely artificial. In that respect  K.I.T.T. is more alien than Spock in Star Trek, and is a precursor to robot characters like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation and also to the living spaceships featured in 90s sci-fi series like Lexx and Farscape. Knight Rider isn’t as ambitious in what it does with the idea but it was a very cool idea in 1982. Of course it wasn’t entirely original - these were ideas that had popped up before in science fiction books and in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Knight Rider should get credit for pioneering the human/robot buddy TV series.

The danger with having a supercar is giving in to the temptation to keep on giving the car more and more powerful features. If the car ends up being able to do absolutely anything then it all becomes too easy. There have to be occasions when Michael is forced to rely on his own ingenuity rather than just pushing another button to activate another super-feature. There is a worrying indication that the producers may be starting to give in to this very temptation - having K.I.T.T. suddenly being able to drive on the water is a slightly worrying sign. And the Turbo function gets very over-used in season two.

The Episode Guide

Season two kicks off with the two-part Goliath. It’s a pretty crazy story. It seems that Wilton Knight, the man who founded the Foundation for Law and Government and the man responsible for the creation of K.I.T.T. had a son. An evil son, named Garthe Knight. This evil son ended up in prison in some African country, serving three life sentences. No-one expected that he would ever be seen again. So when Michael Knight needed a new face Wilton Knight decided, rather rashly, to give him Garthe’s face.

Now Garth Knight has escaped from prison and he’s up to some serious evilness. And he has an evil accomplice - his mother. Elizabeth Knight looks like a respectable society matron but she is an evil spider woman.

The plot that Garthe and his mother are cooking up involves trying to get hold of the formula for K.I.T.T.’s Molecular Bonded Shell. Since this protective shell makes K.I.T.T. just about impervious to anything short of tactical nuclear weapons it is obvious that it would be very bad if the secret fell into the wrong hands. Garthe Knight definitely qualifies as the wrong hands. He plans to construct not a super car but a super truck. The super truck is part of a fiendish plot of some sort.

David Hasselhoff has to play two rôles in this episode and that’s a problem. Don’t get me wrong. I like David Hasselhoff’s performance as Michael Knight. I really do. But having to play a kind of evil version of Michael as well is just a bit beyond Hasselhoff’s acting abilities. As Garthe he’s very stiff and gives the impression that he has no idea at all how to approach the part.

The best thing about the episode is that Michael and K.I.T.T. are up against genuinely formidable adversaries in Garthe and Goliath. A weakness of the series is that K.I.T.T.’s array of super features often makes things too easy. This time K.I.T.T. and Michael are very much the underdogs.

Merchants of Death deals with a case with a personal interest for Devon. An old girlfriend has disappeared after snooping around a military surplus warehouse. Her daughter has called on Devon for help. Obviously she had stumbled upon something very illegal involving military weaponry. The problem is that the mother was clearly a truly appalling and incredibly selfish woman who used Devon shamelessly and the daughter is every bit as bad. It’s hard to care what happens to such people.

In Blind Spot a man is shot while trying to hand over vital evidence to Michael. There’s an eyewitness to the shooting, or at least there would be except that Julie Robinson is blind. But maybe the shooter doesn’t know that. K.I.T.T. almost suffers the worst nightmare fate a car can imagine. A reasonably OK story.

In Return to Cadiz Michael saves the life of a scuba diver. But where did the Aztec gold coin come from? Why did someone try to kill the diver? Why is someone detonating depth charges? This episode unfortunately has some “TV series about to jump the shark” moments to it - K.I.T.T. suddenly being able to drive across the water, and the speak like a pirate thing being way overdone.

In K.I.T.T. the Cat Michael is on the trail of a famous cat burglar, or he would be except that the burglar in question is dead. But that doesn’t seem to have brought his career as a burglar to an end. There’s also the matter of the burglar’s daughter (played by Geena Davis) - she’s not exactly anxious to help Michael. Not a bad episode.

Custom K.I.T.T. takes Michael to a custom and classic car show. Devon has had his car stolen. To make things worse it’s one of the few examples of the Pennington Ascot Regency left in the world. To make things much much worse the car isn’t his. So he has to get it back, which means Michael has to crack a racket in stolen exotic cars. A fun episode.

Soul Survivor faces Michael with a real challenge. A computer whizz kid has stolen K.I.T.T., or at least has stolen the car and most of the basic programming. He didn’t manage to steal K.I.T.T.’s C.P.U. though. And Michael and K.I.T.T. between them are able to identify a suspect. This episode really strengthens the buddy vibe and the bond between K.I.T.T. and Michael. There’s also a slight mystical tinge as Michael is able to sense K.I.T.T.’s presence. A pretty good episode.

Ring of Fire is interesting for the bayou setting and the glimpses into cajun culture. An escaped convict is out to kill the witness who got him convinced, that witness being his wife. This episode is also interesting because we see K.I.T.T. having major mechanical problems and being not such a super car as usual, which means Michael has to work a little harder this time. Fairly entertaining.

In Knightmares Michael gets a blow on the head and forgets the last two years. He thinks he’s still Michael Long, the cop he was before he got his new identity. Yes I know what you’re thinking. Temporary amnesia is a terribly overused TV trope. And there’s nothing particularly clever about the way it’s used here. It’s something to do with a current case and an old case. The dam is a good setting but overall this a very routine outing.

Silent Knight is a Christmas-themed story. Three clowns (yes, actual clowns) rob a bank. They’re foolish enough to steal the manager’s gold watch which would be easy to trace, and then a smart-aleck gypsy kids steals the watch from the bank robbers. This makes him a valuable witness, and therefore a target. Michael and K.I.T.T. are going to have to keep him alive. You pretty much know where this one is going to go right from the start. A very routine episode.

A Knight in Shining Armor is silly and lightweight but that’s not a major disadvantage in a series such as this. The story concerns a famous explorer, his spoilt brat rich daughter and a treasure map. Michael discovers that of all the hazards a lone crime-fighter has to face none is quite so terrifying as a rich private schoolgirl.

Diamonds Aren't a Girl's Best Friend is a case that involves Michael having to spend a lot of time with a gorgeous model, and that’s not the sort of case you’ll find him complaining about. The plot involves jewels, international banking and murder. A typical Knight Rider episode that combines glamour, beauty and action in a reasonably entertaining package.

If you’re even the least bit prone to 80s nostalgia then watching White-Line Warriors will be your idea of TV heaven. Everything that made the 1980s so 1980s is here and it’s pushed to delicious extremes. The plot concerns drag-racing and a burglary racket. Great fun.

Race for Life is much too heart-warming and much too contrived. OK, so Knight Rider has never pretended to be subtle but this is just too saccharine-drenched. A little girl will die unless she gets a bone marrow transplant and the only donor is a gang member facing a murder rap. Not a good episode.

Speed Demons is all about motorcycle racing which turns out to have dangers other than the obvious ones. A fatal accident may have been no accident. It’s a story that offers thrills and spills and while it’s kinda dumb it’s kinda fun. And we discover that Devon has a secret past as a motorcycle racer.

The title of Goliath Returns lets you know what you’re in for. Michael Knight’s evil twin Garthe Knight is back and so is the evil monster truck Goliath. And pulling the strings is the beautiful glamorous but thoroughly (and deliciously) evil spider woman Adrienne St. Clair. Garthe wants revenge. Adrienne wants what she’s always wanted - money sex and power. Garthe and Adrienne make wonderful comic-strip villains. There are as many explosions as any reasonable person would want. And there’s the inevitable showdown between K.I.T.T. and Goliath, good vs evil. Lots of inspired silliness in this two-parter plus we get to see Devon going all MacGyver on us after he gets captured by Garthe.

A Good Knight's Work confronts Michael with a ghost from his past, when he was still cop Michael Long. Somebody tried to kill him then and they may be trying to kill him again now.  He also learns not to trust smart-mouthed teddy bears. For once K.I.T.T.’s Turbo function is used imaginatively. All in all an enjoyable episode.

The two-parter Mouth of the Snake was a kind of pilot episode for a proposed series starring Charles Taylor as semi-official Department of Justice agent David Dalton. Dalton seems to have some kind of superpowers but there’s no explanation given as to how or why this is, which makes his super-athletic prowess rather silly and unconvincing. The big problem is that he is completely overshadowed by the other guest star, Joanna Pettet,who has the charisma he lacks and also plays a much more interesting character. Michael and K.I.T.T. are relegated to supporting parts in this episode so it doesn’t feel like a real Knight Rider episode. The plot concerns a Mexican super-criminal smuggling gold and very high-tech top-secret weaponry. Not a very successful episode.

Michael goes undercover as a rock star to save an old girlfriend in Let It Be Me. Quite why he wants to set himself up for obvious heartbreak is a mystery too deep for me to fathom. You have to really really like 80s music to like this one.

Big Iron provides a reasonably solid ending to the season. There’s a racket in stolen heavy construction machinery. This story features the silliest use yet of K.I.T.T.’s Turbo Function.

Final Thoughts

Of all the 80s action adventure TV series Knight Rider is the most 80s. Watching this series is like indulging in complete 80s nostalgia overload. If you hated everything about the 80s don’t even consider trying to watch Knight Rider. But if you adored the 80s then you’re going to be pretty blissed-out. Knight Rider has it all - the music, the fashion, the cars, the hairstyles (big hair!), video games, the incredibly crude computer graphics.

If you were a teenaged boy in the 80s then Knight Rider showed you the world as it should be. In every case that Michael Knight gets involved with there’s a woman, and she’s always young and she’s always a babe. In the real world car mechanics are likely to be pudgy bald guys with bad attitudes. In the world of Knight Rider car mechanics are sweet-natured hot babes like April. Because that’s how God intended things to be.

The second season is slightly sillier than the first. That’s not a major problem since this is not exactly a series rooted in gritty realism. This is comic-book adventure stuff. K.I.T.T.’s super powers are relied on a bit too much though - it would be nice to see Michael actually figuring out ways of getting out of trouble rather than just pushing the magic Turbo button.

Any criticism you might like to make of this series is entirely justified, and entirely beside the point. It’s supposed to be mindless fun. It’s supposed to appeal to your inner thirteen-year-old boy. If you don’t have an inner thirteen-year-old boy you’ll hate it. Knight Rider does what it sets out to do and does it very well. If you’re prepared to relax and enjoy wallowing in the 80s nostalgia you’ll have a surprising amount of fun.

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