The “Knight Rider” revival movie set the bar low in terms of expectations, and damned if the series premiere still doesn’t go skidding under it. Frankly, this convoluted hour sent me scurrying to NBC’s website looking for clarification about the plot, but — whew, what a relief — there really isn’t much of one. As constituted the program does have a decidedly retro flair, existing largely to push Ford cars (which could use the push), while stripping its characters down to underwear and skin-tight tops at every turn. As strategies go, this one could use a lube job.
Although the movie did improbably well ratings-wise, the series doesn’t do much to cash in on that gift or the obvious nostalgic goodwill residing in the name. Basically, the show is still about a driver and a really cool high-tech talking car. Granted, there are additional bells and whistles, like its ability to morph into other shapes — but that’s mostly to promote sports cars and trucks without needing to change drivers.
After that, what’s going on is pretty much anybody’s guess, as the flimsy dialogue competes with a relentless syntho-pop score. Mike Traceur (Justin Bruening, in a performance that makes one pine for David Hasselhoff like a German pop fan) is the Iraq war vet assigned to drive KITT (the voice of Val Kilmer, seemingly impersonating the Hal 9000 computer), paired with his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Deanna Russo).
The central duo stage secret missions with the help of an elite government team that mostly sits around watching them on monitors, uttering wisecracks and looking beautiful — taking orders from Sarah’s scientist dad (Bruce Davison), who developed KITT: and the boss (Yancey Arias), who gets to speak the perhaps never-before-uttered line, “Mike, you have to get his thumb back at all costs!”
Producer Gary Scott Thompson appears determined to introduce a bit of intrigue to the series by giving Mike a gaping blank spot in his memory, suggesting a possible conspiracy. There’s also an obvious goal to create will-they-or-won’t-they tension between Mike and Sarah, though after the busy but nonsensical premiere it’s doubtful either pursuit will gain much traction.
There’s a degree of underlying cynicism in the “Knight Rider” prototype — a dated concept that rolled off the assembly line largely because of its built-in product-integration opportunities.
NBC got lucky once, but even with marginal competition it’s hard to imagine there’s much left in the tank for this as a series — unless, perhaps, gas shoots back above $4 a gallon and people yearn for the cheap, vicarious thrill of watching somebody else waste fuel.