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The first 4 episodes of the Knuckles TV series feel like a fever dream – for better, and for worse

What if The Mighty Boosh, Sonic the Hedgehog, and some of the most egregious product placement you’ve ever seen had a baby?

Live action Knuckles, a close up.
Image credit: Paramount/VG247

We all know Sonic the Hedgehog loves chilli dogs, right? That’s not some weird deep cut from the 90s multimedia Sonic takeover that I’ve just internalised, is it? It feels like canon to me: the blue blur loves to eat, and specifically, he loves chilli dogs. You can collect them in some of the more obscure games as collectibles, and the social media posts are full of them. It’s well established, both in universe and outside of it.

But did you know that Knuckles loves Doritos? Cool Ranch, specifically. Because he does. He even wants to visit said ‘cool ranch’ someday. You can tell this from the series, because there’s a lengthy, very well-lit and well-considered shot of the red echidna munching on a pack of them and extolling their virtues.

Later on, for some reason, there’s a vaseline-coated soft focus shot of him in a diner car park, having a heart-to-heart with best friend-cum-student, with a big ol’ packet of branded potato chips right there in the foreground with him.

It’s strange. In so many ways, Knuckles (the series) summons the nostalgia of 90s kids TV – a bit weird, a bit grown-up, a bit toothlessly punky – but then there’s the product placement. Which feels equally 90s, to be fair. All it's missing is a special agent from bad guy goon squad, GUN, supping on a Pepsi after being knocked to the dirt, saying ‘ahh!’, and getting back on his feet full of pep.

Knuckles, in live action, stands atop a stone icon in a slapdash gladitorial arena built into a living room.
You can have it all, my empire of hurt. | Image credit: Paramount

But that’s about the extent of the snark I can level at this peculiar little romp from Paramount. Similarly to the parent Sonic the Hedgehog films it’s spun off from, this series is made with a lot of heart, and a lot of respect for the blue blur’s immortal franchise. Fans of the Knuckles OVA (obscure, yes) will point and smirk at some incredibly obscure deep cuts from Sonic lore, and newcomers that maybe enjoyed Sonic Frontiers and/or Sonic Mania will clap with glee as Knuckles bloodlessly batters hired goons and makes a dry little quip as he walks away.

It’s perfectly inoffensive, a romp, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Much like the Sonic the Hedgehog films that birthed the series in the first place. The pacing is odd, though. Where the films follow the natural flow of adrenaline, heartfelt moment, exposition dump, adrenaline (rinse, repeat), the series is far more arrhythmic. It feels like these eight 30 minute episodes were, once upon a time, one much more focused two hour film, and that Paramount injected filler between the cracks to justify its life as an exclusive streaming series.

Watch it for yourself, and you’ll see. Episode 1 and Episode 2 are tight, fun, and set the scene well. The stakes are small compared to the films, but that’s fine – it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, hand-in-glove. The set pieces are electric, dripping with production value and galvanised with great performances (shoutout to Ted Lasso’s Ellie Taylor as Head Goon and The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barret as Deceitful Friend, in particular).

Knuckles, in live action, runs across a facsimile of Angel Island Zone, but it's all made of cardboard cut outs.
This sort-of Angel Island Zone bit had me grinning ear to ear. | Image credit: Paramount

But then comes Episode 3. Almost a family-centric bottle episode in how far removed from the plot it is. I’m remiss to ruin plot points here, but as an adult I found this 30 minutes trying (save for the cool set piece at the end which is a one-shot fight that is seriously impressive and well-conceived). Kids will turn off completely, I’d put money on it.

But then comes Episode 4, which is one of the most batshit and joyous episodes of TV I’ve seen in years. The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barret wails a rock opera about the mysterious past of Knuckles, getting both the in-world characters and you as a viewer to see things from the burly alien’s point-of-view. It’s produced as well as a Rush song, and there are some very knowing nods to the game that made me feel 8 years old again. And then – somehow – they even get Michael Bolton to come in for the climax.

What the hell? Seriously. What the hell!?

Knuckles, in live action, in the iconic three-star hat.
Yep, you're a nerd if you recognise that hat. | Image credit: Paramount

The first four episodes of the show are wobbly, but the wheels never come off. In fact, after that fever dream of a sci-fi prog opera, I’m in for the long haul. What if they do it again? What if there’s a reprise where Rick Wakeman comes in dressed as Big the Cat or something? I must know!

Knuckles is camp, silly, watchable, but there’s this shadow of something else bubbling under the surface. Has this been dissected from a film into a series? Has the studio decreed that more episodes make it to air, so weird filler has made it to the final reel? Will I ever know how much money the studio took from Facebook Marketplace to shunt in one of the weirdest mid-episode ads I’ve ever seen?

I come away from the first four episodes with a lot of questions. But there’s one thing I know for sure, though: for four episodes straight, I couldn’t take my eyes off Knuckles. You never have any idea what’s going to happen next. And that works both for the show, and against it.

Knuckles airs April 26, 2024 in the USA and April 27, 2024 in the UK – exclusively on Paramount+.

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