Television is a vast wasteland, according to Newton Minow.

Beating down on your soul like a drum from hell.

Posted: 19 September 2008 | posted by David J. Loehr |

"A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist." That sounds like something from The Shadow or Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons, very 1940's radio serial. But no, that was from the original opening narration for Knight Rider, the classic car commercial/stunt show from the early '80's.

Well, now it's back and--ahem--better than ever.

After the jump, see if it purrs like a Koenigsegg or strips its gears and rolls coming around Gambon.

What I saw: Knight Rider.
Where it's at: NBC, Wednesdays @ 8pm as of 24 Sept 08
Who made it: Gary Scott Thompson, of Las Vegas and The Fast and the Furious.
Glib deconstruction: Don't hassle the Hoff.
What I thought: Brain hurt. Hulk smash.
What I'll do: Run like the wind.

I know what you're thinking. "The original show was never high art. It had David Hasselhoff, for crissakes. And as his evil twin, Hoff in a goatee." Either that or you're wondering what Gambon has to do with anything. More on that in a minute.

Yes, I know it's supposed to be escapist silliness. Yes, I know it's a cartoon. I don't have a problem with that. But why can't it be a good cartoon?

It's true, I watched the original from time to time. I was 11 when it premiered, and even then, it was pretty silly. On some level, the new version seems aimed at the same age range, what with the transforming cars and the things-go-boom and all. It's even scheduled during the so-called family hour. So what's with the psuedo-nudity and the dismemberment? It's not explicit, it's not even all that grotesque--I'm no forensic scientist, but even I know that when you cut off someone's thumb, there's going to be some blood. Still, the concept is there. This didn't disturb anyone at the network?

One thing that struck me funny is that no one seems to know what kind of show this is, whether the actors or the writers. Is it sophomoric rom-com or is it intense post-Iraq drama? It is an allegory about the encroachment of technology into every nook and cranny of daily life or even one's own existence, or is it hot transforming cars go boom? I just don't know.

Considering the "sleeping pods," the activity space and the shifting and changing identities of the espionage heroes--not to mention the focused amnesiac mind-wiping of our hero--it's almost like a hundred monkeys started typing when they saw all the articles about Joss Whedon's Dollhouse coming later this season on FOX. If only they had been good monkeys...

Part of the problem is the car. Well, the voice. It's kind of amusing to imagine Val Kilmer's character from Real Genius grown and evolved and somehow involved in bringing a car to life, becoming the template for the voice and personality of the car. Then again, that's a show I'd probably enjoy. But this is more like Val Kilmer from The Saint, another remake best left forgotten. He's all monotone and mellow and...zzzzz...wha...sorry, dozed off just thinking about it.

A funny aside. I watched this first episode on Bear in mind that when they made the backdoor pilot film last season, Will Arnett was originally cast as the voice of KITT. The few ads and teasers that leaked out with his voice made it sound almost worth watching; it's not hard to imagine Gob Bluth giving the lines some kind--any kind--of spark. But then Ford, who was providing the car and a certain amount of promotional support (in return for a ridiculous amount of promotion), nixed him, as he was also the distinctive voice behind the current GM campaign. So they hired Kilmer and re-recorded all the dialogue. Why am I telling you this?

Because the episode I watched was sponsored by--and filled with ads for--General Motors. Oops.

The movie was pretty awful, all in all, right down to the touching cameo by the Hoff. (Seriously, we're supposed to call him the Hoff?) But it's nothing compared to what is apparently the template for the series. They brought in Gary Scott Thompson to rework the whole concept, and he wrote this first episode. I won't bother explaining anything about it, because the quotes speak for themselves...

"We can do this the easy way...or the VERY HARD WAY!"

"I think I'm gonna hurl. Yup."

"Mike, you have to get his thumb back at all costs."

"You invented an unbreakable code and hid the key to it in your DNA? Dude, that is so stupid."

"The chance to negate the everyday humiliation beating down on your soul like a drum from hell?"

Or how about this exchange, between father/mentor/not-mad scientific genius and daughter/spy/hero's love interest:

Charles: You okay?
Sarah: It's...something's wrong with Mike.
Charles: What are you talking about?
Sarah: Something happened to Iraq.
Charles: Things happen in war, Sarah. Things men don't want to talk about.
Sarah: No, something else. Something different. Something very bad.

Um, okay.

As for the location, let's just say this D.C. area native is wondering just which Metro station those mountains are near. Also, why did the stock footage look more like the train system around Wilmington and Philadelphia? And why would you set part of a story in one of the most distinctive looking Metro systems in the world and then clearly film elsewhere? (Which is to say, why would you bother writing it when you knew you couldn't and wouldn't film it?) Nitpicky? If I'm paying that much attention to the background, then something's wrong in the foreground. After all, I highly enjoyed Rumble in the Bronx without once caring that the Bronx looked a little too much like Vancouver.

Cartoon is fine. Just make it smart. Just a little bit.

So no, it's no Koenigsegg. It's not even a Hruck Bugbear, the pinnacle of Balkan engineering. It never even got to Gambon. Jeremy Clarkson would blow the thing to kingdom come. And that's a show I'd watch. Actually, I do. Top Gear, Mondays at 8:00 pm EST on BBC America. Which is odd, because really, I don't care about cars at all, I just enjoy the interaction between intelligent human beings.

And with that bombshell, it's time to say good night. Good night.