Wednesday 20 April 2022

Knight Rider season 3 (1984-85)

Knight Rider returned for its third season in 1984. Knight Rider was one of the three great American action/adventure series of the early 80s, along with The A-Team and Airwolf. They were all thoroughly enjoyable and while the first season of Airwolf was the supreme achievement of the genre Knight Rider was still enormous fun.

The premise was pretty darned cool. An undercover cop is badly wounded but his life is saved by a mysterious tycoon. The cop gets a new identity and a new partner - an ultra-high tech car named K.I.T.T. (pretty much a mobile fortress) - and a new career as an unofficial crime-fighter. He works for a kind of vigilante justice outfit (but a respectable one) called the Foundation for Law and Government (FLAG), headed up by a suave if somewhat pompous Englishman named Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare).

The series had just the right mix of science fiction, fun, action, stunts, car chases, gadgets, humour, occasional seriousness and romance. Getting that mix right is quite an art and it’s something that the show’s creator, Glen A. Larson, was pretty good at.

David Hasselhoff may not be a great actor but he was perfect for this series. There’s one thing that has to be said for him - his performance is always enthusiastic. The car itself has its own personality and qualifies as the fourth regular cast member. It’s not easy to have chemistry with a machine but the chemistry between Michael and K.I.T.T. really does work.

For the third season some cosmetic changes were made to K.I.T.T.’s interior and the car gained even more formidable capabilities but the big news for fans was that Bonnie was back. Bonnie Barstow (played by Patricia McPherson) was the genius girl scientist/engineer who maintained K.I.T.T. and added various refinements to the car. She left after the first season to be replaced by April Curtis (Rebecca Holden). Rebecca Holden was an OK actress, April was pretty, she wasn’t an irritating character and I don’t think any Knight Rider fans actively disliked her but she wasn’t Bonnie. Bonnie just seemed to be an essential part of the team. So, wisely, the producers brought her back for the final two seasons.

K.I.T.T. is not just a super-car but a super-computer as well. The trick to making this series work was to ensure that K.I.T.T. could play a real rôle in each episode. It wasn’t enough to just throw in a car chase every time, there had to be something that needed doing that Michael could not possibly do without K.I.T.T. and could not possibly do with an ordinary car - something that required K.I.T.T.’s array of gadgetry and ability to do things that no conventional car could do. And ideally Michael had to get himself in a jam from which only K.I.T.T. could rescue him.

Of course this was the 80s so there had to be babes as well. Every case seems somehow to involve at least one glamorous young person of the female persuasion. The difficulty is that the whole concept of the show is that (apart from K.I.T.T.) Michael is a loner so you always know that any budding romance isn’t going to go anywhere. So any romances have to end one way or another before the closing titles but without making Michael appear to be a heel. This is something that the series managed to do pretty successfully.

A lot of K.I.T.T.’s super-abilities are in fact pretty much magic. They’re totally impossible and there’s no attempt to make them even the slightest bit plausible. K.I.T.T. can do just abut anything. This should be a weakness of the series but somehow it never seems to matter - Knight Rider, like The A-Team, has very much a comic-book feel.

Knight Rider has had several DVD releases. The Mill Creek complete series releases on DVD and Blu-Ray are extremely good value. The transfers on the DVD set (which is the one I own) are pretty good.

Episode Guide

Season three kicks off with the two-parter Knight of the Drones. Which starts promisingly - a prisoner (a killer named C.J. Jackson played by cult movie icon Jim Brown) breaks out of jail with the help of a cassette player that is really a robot, and a self-driving car. And there’s a glamorous female diabolical criminal mastermind named Margo Sheridan. She has plans for Jackson but neither Jackson nor the viewer has any idea what her plans actually are. Since Jackson killed Michael’s predecessor at FLAG the Foundation is taking a very keen interest in his recapture. A fine episode to kick off season three.

In The Ice Bandits diamonds belonging to the estate of an elderly lady and earmarked for the Foundation are stolen. Michael discovers that he is not the only one able to get a new face, and he also discovers that monks are not always what they seem to be. A fun episode.

Knights of the Fast Lane introduces Michael to the world of banzai racing - illegal street races for the super-rich, with super-cars. A young woman is a victim of a hit-run driver and she happens to be the daughter of a cop who was Michael’s partner when he was a rookie in the police force. And Michael used to know the daughter so this case is very much a personal matter for him and he thinks banzai racing is involved. So naturally we get lots of automotive action in this story. Plus football is involved, so K.I.T.T. has to learn to play football. And where there’s football there will be cheerleaders so we get lots of scantily-clad cheerleaders. Car racing, murder, football, babes. Is there anything else that the target audience for this series could possibly want? It works for me.

Halloween Knight I've talked about elsewhere.

In K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R. Michael and K.I.T.T. come up against the K.I.T.T.’s original prototype, K.A.R.R. (Knight Automated Roving Robot). K.A.R.R. looks the same as K.I.T.T. and has much the same capabilities but unfortunately he also has a bad attitude. K.A.R.R. was found buried in the sand by a guy with a metal detector. He was foolish enough to dig up his find and K.A.R.R. thereupon offered to take him for a ride. It’s going to prove to be quite a ride. K.A.R.R. made his first appearance in season one and he wants revenge. The evil twin idea has been used countless times and using it for a super-car works pretty well in this case. It culminates in an epic machine vs machine showdown. Good stuff.

Michael and K.I.T.T. battle cattle-rustlers in The Rotten Apples. Rancher Rebecca Hammond isn’t really a rancher, she’s a child psychologist. And her ranch isn’t really a ranch, it’s a kind of halfway house for New York street kids. But if those cattle-rustlers can’t be stopped she’ll lose the ranch. K.I.T.T. has a disagreement with a horse and has to battle not one but two giant trucks. Michael has to ride a mechanical bucking bronco. The silliness level is off the scale in this episode but it’s good fun silliness. It’s like a western but somehow it works and it’s a lot of fun.

In Knight in Disgrace Michael is framed by a big-time New Orleans gangster named LaSalle. Michael is kicked out of the Foundation but LaSalle offers him a job - the job being to steal K.I.T.T.. Surely Michael is not going to go to work for a mobster? OK, so this one is a bit predictable but it’s OK.

In Dead of Knight Michael is on the trail of a criminal selling deadly chemicals to revolutionaries. An attempt to kill Michael ends with a girl dead by mistake, which gives him an added incentive to crack the case. There are deadly orchids and there’s a race against time with two lives at stake, including Michael’s. Not a bad episode, even with K.I.T.T.’s jokes.

The episode is called Lost Knight but it’s not Michael who is lost, it’s K.I.T.T. - he gets electrocuted and loses his memory. They were chasing some bad guys who’d stolen some new super high explosives. K.I.T.T. doesn’t know who he is any more but he befriends a boy. And the boy could be a key witness.

In Knight of the Chameleon Michael is up against a renegade arms dealer known as the Chameleon. He’s a man of a thousand faces, a master of disguise. The Chameleon has just escaped from custody and he has two objectives - to pull off a huge arms coup and to kill Michael Knight. Of course you know that at some stage he’s going to disguise himself as Michael. The gee-whizz jetpack is amusing and finally someone has found a real use for K.I.T.T.’s ejector seat mechanism. Good fun.

The garment trade is the scene for murder in Custom Made Killer. A series of murders in fact, all involving a deadly custom car. This episode is a good blend of action and glamour and it gives K.I.T.T. a worthy opponent in the form of the fairly scary killer car. Good stuff.

In Knight by a Nose Michael gets mixed up with a girl and a racehorse. Maxine’s beloved horse King Jack, a rising champion, has to be put down after a fall. Michael suspects that whatever happened it wasn’t as simple as that. A fairly innocuous episode in which K.I.T.T. develops a gambling habit.

Junk Yard Dog pits Michael against a ruthless toxic waste dumper but it’s K.I.T.T. who ends up in real trouble. He gets dumped in the toxic waste and it may be the end of the line for him. Even if he can be fixed, will he have lost his nerve? Can a car lose its nerve? Apparently so. This one could have been an embarrassing misfire but somehow it works. It works because David Hasselhoff makes it work - he really makes us believe that Michael believes that K.I.T.T. has emotions and since Michael believes it we believe it.

In Buy Out a company specialising in ultra high tech armoured limousines is about to make an important sale when their sales demonstration is spectacularly sabotaged. Michael has to find out what was behind the disaster. The employees were planning a buy out of the company so they stand to lose everything if the company goes under. Plenty of explosions, plenty of opportunities to show off K.I.T.T.’s capabilities and plenty of automotive mayhem. A good solid episode.

In Knightlines an employee at a high-tech corporation is accidentally killed while stealing company property, although maybe that wasn’t what he was doing and maybe it wasn’t an accident. It’s all about bugs and it’s a pretty good episode.

In The Nineteenth Hole the grand-daughter of one of Devon’s friends is organising a car race in a small town but someone is trying to stop the race. And they’re prepared to kill her to do it. The story also involves gangsters and golf, and it’s pretty entertaining.

Knight & Knerd is an obvious attempt to cash in on the unexpected success of Revenge of the Nerds. The Foundation gets a new recruit, a nerd named Elliott. The case involves the use of a new top-secret laser in a diamond robbery. It’s strictly played for broad comedy and you’ll either love it or hate it. I’m afraid I hated it. Rather cringe-inducing.

Ten Wheel Trouble deals with an attempt by a big trucking combine to put independent operators out of business, and with a trucker who may or may not have resorted to murder in order to stop them. Michael also has to deal with a precocious and feisty fifteen-year-old girl who’s as hot-headed as her big brother (the one accused or murder). It’s a pretty standard episode but there’s plenty of big rig action and K.I.T.T. takes on a truck loaded with ten tons of concrete.

An old friend of Bonnie’s is found dead in Knight in Retreat and since he was involved in top-secret work there’ll have to an investigation. Bonnie wants Michael to do the investigation even though she might not like what he finds out. There’s a glamorous lady criminal mastermind with lots of glamorous henchwomen. There’s a plot to steal a missile and a guidance system. It’s typical Knight Rider over-the-top nonsense and it’s fun.

In Knight Strike a cache of impounded weapons has been stolen from a police lock-up. The cache includes a couple of super high tech laser rifles. The case takes Michael to a survivalist convention were he gets to play with cool guns and a cute blonde. And there’s another babe who seems to want to play as well. It’s standard Knight Rider stuff but it’s executed with style and energy.

Knight Rider goes to the circus in Circus Knights. And there’s murder and mayhem. Michael decides to go undercover as a daredevil, complete with super car. I just love TV shows and movies with circus settings. K.I.T.T. gets to jump through the ring of fire, there’s a sexy tiger lady and there’s a great fiery action scene at the end. It’s good stuff.

Final Thoughts

The third season of Knight Rider is just as much fun as the first two seasons. Michael and K.I.T.T. remain a great team and there’s the right mix of action, humour and pretty girls. It’s great comfort TV. Highly recommended.

I've also reviewed season one and season two of Knight Rider.

Thursday 7 April 2022

Thriller - Lady Killer, Possession (1973)

I purchased the complete series boxed set of Brian Clemens’ celebrated 1970s horror/thriller anthology series Thriller back in 2010. I’ve worked my way very slowly through it and I finally reached the end about a year ago. By the time I started this blog I’d already reaches season four. I’ve posted lots of reviews of the later episodes. And now I find myself wanting to revisit the earlier seasons. It is after all around twelve years since I’ve seen some of these episodes.

So if I’m going to do this I should start right from the very beginning.

Lady Killer

Lady Killer is the first episode of the first season and was originally screened in April 1973. Lady Killer was, like just about every episode, scripted by Clemens.

Lady Killer starts in an English seaside hotel. Paul Tanner is romancing Jenny Frifth (Barbara Feldon) but we’re immediately suspicious of his intentions. He sneaked it into her room to get a look at her passport before making his first approach. Then we hear him talking on the telephone to a colleague or accomplice and we realise that for some presumably dishonest reason he is planning to manipulate Jenny into falling in love with him.

Which he has no trouble doing. Jenny is pretty and seems like a pleasant person but she’s obviously shy and lonely, and we know from that phone conversation we overheard that Paul has selected her specifically because she is a lonely lady.

Jenny is swept off her feet. Had she been less lonely and a bit more worldly she might perhaps have realised that this guy is just a bit too smooth and too charming and that he knows every trick in the book when it comes to playing with a woman’s emotions. Jenny is so emotionally starved that she agrees to marry Paul even though she’s known him for just a couple of days.

Gradually she notices little things, or little things are pointed out to her, and the seeds of suspicion are planted in her mind. The problem is that Paul is incredibly quick-witted and is able to provide a plausible explanation every time.

We know that Paul is up to something and it’s pretty obvious what his plan is. But don’t despair. Brian Clemens has a few very neat plot twists up his sleeve.

The casting is quite interesting. Robert Powell was an obvious choice to play Paul. No-one could do oily sinister charm and emotional manipulativeness better than Powell.

Jenny is played by Barbara Feldon. Yes, 99 from Get Smart. She gives a terrific performance, capturing Jenny’s unworldliness and vulnerability without ever allowing her to seem ridiculous or pathetic. And her performance is totally believable - Jenny reacts the way a rather lonely woman desperate for love would react.

The other major female character, Toni, is played by Linda Thorson, which is somewhat surprising since Clemens and Thorson had a fraught and uneasy relationship on The Avengers. Thorson is excellent and her performance is also believable - she has certain logical motivations but they’re complicated by emotion and Thorson makes Toni just sympathetic enough - we don’t approve of her actions but we can understand them.

The icing on the cake for me is the presence of T.P. McKenna, one of my favourite British character actors of that era, in a secondary but crucial role.

All the performances are extremely good and, most importantly, Powell and Feldon and Powell and Thorson work exceptionally well together.

A mystery-thriller needs to have a coherent plot but it doesn’t matter if it’s a little far-fetched. That’s the nature of the mystery and thriller genres. In real life people rarely plan incredibly elaborate crimes, but that’s why real-life crime is boring. The mystery-thriller genre should have nothing to do with realism. As long as the plot has internal coherence there’s no need to ask yourself if anybody would really carry out such a complicated crime which apparently required three years’ worth of planning.

It’s a clever enough plan. Not dazzlingly original but the sheer effort and sacrifice and patience required to make it work are impressive. It won’t take most viewers very long to figure out what Paul’s plan is. That doesn’t matter because Clemens has a couple of very nifty little plot twists to spring on us in the third act. And those plot twists are very cleverly executed.

That’s so much here to enjoy but the greatest pleasure comes from the performances of Robert Powell, Barbara Feldon and Linda Thorson. They really are a joy to watch.

Lady Killer is a great way to kick off a brand new series.


Possession is episode two and already the series is shifting gears to keep us on our toes. Suddenly we’re in supernatural territory, with a haunted house story. With Thriller you could never be sure if there were going to be supernatural elements or not. And the supernatural could be handled in a rather ambiguous way in this series.

In this case the setup is a classic haunted house story. Successful businessman Ray Burns (John Carson) and his wife Penny (Joanna Dunham) have just bought a lovely old house in the country.

At first everything goes well, with just a few very tiny odd things that disturb Penny. Then there are problems with the central heating and the basement floor (which for some mysterious reason had been concreted) has to be dug up. A gruesome discovery is made, which seems to provide a partial solution to a 20-year-old mystery. This discovery also explains some increasingly odd events. There is a ghost haunting the house, but whose ghost? Is it the ghost of the victim or the murderer?

The obvious step is to get a medium to conduct a séance. As is always the case in movies and TV the séance turns out to be a seriously bad idea.

Penny is now quite frightened and Ray is pretty shaken as well.

And there’s the matter of the murder that takes place nearby. There’s no connection of course but it is an odd coincidence.

This story leads us up the garden path pretty effectively. We think it’s a very conventional ghost story but things are by no means as simple as they appear to be.

There are some clues as to what is going on, clues such as the killer’s fondness for whistling Greensleeves, but these clues can mislead us if we’re not careful.

It’s a clever variation on the haunted house theme.

So two very good episodes right at the start of season one.