Knuckles review: Sonic’s TV spinoff is harmless fun

Knuckles review: Sonic’s TV spinoff is harmless fun

Sonic the Hedgehog’s best frenemy takes the spotlight in Knuckles, a lighthearted small-screen amuse-bouche that’s breezy, childish, and ultimately forgettable.

Six years ago, Sonic’s initial movie design left the world aghast; its freaky little teeth… *shivers.* Look at the franchise now: two surprisingly good movies deep, $700 million in box office receipts, hype for Keanu Reeves’ Shadow debut in the threequel reaching fever pitch, and its first streaming adventure days from release.

Idris Elba’s spiky-fisted echidna was introduced in the second film, a foe-turned-pal devoted to protecting the Master Emerald (a MacGuffin you don’t need to worry about). The series picks up with him struggling to adjust to a civilized Earth life in Green Hills; after all, why shouldn’t he build his own Iron Throne and host trials by combat between the dog and mailman to establish the family’s hierarchy of strength?

If you’re expecting fish-out-of-water hijinks, you’re in luck — but, rather frustratingly, they play second fiddle to the show’s actual arc… which has almost nothing to do with Knuckles.

The Knuckles (and Wade) Show

Knuckles’ ennui is the initial driver of the TV series; Sonic and Tails tell him to chill out and make himself at home, but he only seems to annoy Maddie (Tika Sumpter). With Tom (James Marsden, who never shows up) out of town and Dr Robotnik neutralized, he’s got nothing to do — until Chief Pachacamac (Christopher Lloyd) visits him with a new mission: training an apprentice… unfortunately for him, it’s deputy doofus Wade Wipple (Adam Pally).

After Wade’s bowling captain — who also happens to be a bounty hunter — Jack Sinclair (Julian Barratt) boots him off the team, Knuckles agrees to train him to be a formidable warrior. The pair set off on a road trip to the bowling championship in Reno, but plenty gets in the way; a knockoff Scottish Eggman (Rory McCann) who needs Knuckles’ quills for his evil weaponry, two villainous agents (Kid Cudi and Ted Lasso’s Ellie Taylor) hellbent on catching our hero, and they also stop for a Shabbat dinner with Wade’s mother (Stockard Channing — yes, really) and his sister (Edi Patterson, maybe the torturous member of the cast). Just wait for the comparison between Knuckles’ race and Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The focus on Pally’s Wade, who was funny in a complimentary-nose-exhale sort of way in the movies, is easily the show’s biggest mistake, for three reasons. Firstly, Elba is great fun as Knuckles, and the series knows how to use him; his fights are colorful and exciting, particularly in standout set piece in a neon-lit bowling alley that “glows with the power of a falling galacta star”, he has a handful of laugh-out-loud one-liners (when Wade points out Kevin James is headlining a hotel, he excitedly responds, “The Mall Cop!”), and — this is the main point — he’s who we’re there for.


Top 10 anime with the best story

Secondly, Wade’s story is trite at best; not just because ESPN8 makes an appearance (no Cotton or Pepper though), but he’s basically an Average Joe from Dodgeball. In the back half of the six episodes, the show continually pivots to Wade without Knuckles, rarely for better and often for worse; a Michael Bolton musical number is an admirable, entertaining swing, but all the stuff with his family (especially his dad, played by Cary Elwes in an absurd (derogatory) performance, like the lovechild of Shooter McGavin and John Cleese) is numbingly uninteresting. It’s almost like a ’90s sports movie homage repurposed to include a video game character, and none of the emotional beats land — not a single one.

Thirdly, your enjoyment of Knuckles will come down to one thing: whether or not you like Pally’s comedy stylings. The actor isn’t solely to blame: every bit — whether it’s a prolonged fantasy fight sequence or an argument between two siblings afflicted by arrested development — outstays its welcome, leaving you nothing but glazed-over eyes and a withered-away will to live in its wake.

Knuckles is for children, and that’s okay

Knuckles review: Sonic’s TV spinoff is harmless fun

Here’s the thing: these criticisms ultimately come from an adult watching a show aimed at children. Its broad, basic comedy won’t be for everyone, but it’ll almost certainly have a higher batting average with kids more than grown-ups. The episodes are mercifully paced too, running anywhere between 25-30 minutes across each pacy installment.

To its credit, it doesn’t ask much of any viewer; if you haven’t seen the films, don’t worry! Not only is the franchise’s lore mostly irrelevant, but a breakneck recap fills in any blanks from the outset. If you’re looking forward to any sort of tease for Sonic 3, don’t bother — while it must have been tempting to tip its hat toward Shadow or anything that awaits fans this Christmas, this is a self-contained story that’ll probably be hastily explained in a matter of seconds in the upcoming movie.

The show’s soundtrack goes off too. Its theme, Patty Smyth’s ‘The Warrior’, is an inspired choice; it peppers its fair share of bangers throughout, like Madness’ ‘Our House’ and Blink 182’s ‘All the Small Things’ (they’re obvious but harmless choices, much like The Super Mario Bros Movie’s tracklist). And keep an eye out for the ’80s and ’90s references; Wade’s bedroom wall will have you pointing at the screen (“Oh there’s the thing I like!” is an infantile appeal, but who cares?). It is all a little frustrating, because Knuckles does have a charming sense of identity and the potential for buddy-comedy laughs — it could have been so much more, but this will have to do.

Knuckles review score: 3/5

Don’t take Knuckles too seriously. As aggravatingly unfunny as it can be, it’s still a strong testament to Idris Elba’s loveable echidna, and it’ll whet your appetite for Sonic 3.

Knuckles premieres on Paramount Plus on April 26. In the meantime, you can find other new TV shows you should stream in April.

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