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TV Series Review

With Knight Rider, NBC has thrown a moral rod. And blown a gasket. And scattered the motor. Not that we expected a lot. Keep in mind that the recent TV movie that served as the new show's pilot featured two women in bed together.

This turbocharged update of the popular 1982-86 David Hasselhoff series of the same name follows the exploits of Michael Knight's estranged son, Mike Traceur (Justin Bruening), a mysterious Iraqi war vet out to protect truth, justice and drive-in lube stations everywhere. He's the designated driver for Knight Industry's massive crime-fighting unit, staffed by all manner of scientists, mechanics and FBI agents, including Mike's one-time girlfriend Sarah Graiman (Deanna Russo).

But the real star of the show is a talking car—a Ford Mustang voiced by Val Kilmer. Affectionately called KITT, the automobile is part Transformer, part starship Enterprise. It can withstand missile attacks, tickle the sound barrier and, for brief periods, fly. Its windshield is a computer display, its glove compartment a fully automated M.A.S.H. unit. KITT can change into any other Ford model (can you say product placement?) with the push of a button, and it may even understand your teen's algebra homework.

Alas, KITT doesn't control Knight Rider's scripts. One would hope the car would know better than to fill a show aimed at kids with salacious content. The series is fueled as much by hormones as horsepower. For example, before the premiere's first commercial break, writers contrived a way for Mike and Sarah to strip down to their skivvies. That kind of thing is so typical you'd think the producers have a babes-in-bikinis quota for each episode.

Characters' behavior is as randy as the eye candy. Mike and KITT have a heart-to-heart as to whether he should sleep with a co-worker (he wakes up in bed with her), and Mike uses KITT's surveillance equipment to ogle swimmers at a Playboy-style party. People also spend a great deal of time discussing pornography. There are other problems, too. Drunkenness. Harsh language. And the show's considerable violence settles into an uncomfortable no-man's land between cartoonishness and CSI. We might expect fistfights and fiery explosions, but we also see a hoodlum cut off someone's thumb and store it in a jar.

"If we must pitch dreck at children, can't we at least make it age-appropriate dreck?" implores USA Today critic Robert Bianco. "Let's hope when NBC and its partners at Ford get around to selling little toy KITTs, they come complete with a tiny finger in the glove compartment. I know, your kids probably have seen worse. That, however, is more an indictment of the increasing coarseness of our culture than a defense of Rider."

KITT may look sleek and powerful on the outside, but NBC's latest model is a lemon.

Episodes Reviewed: Sept. 24, Oct. 1, 8, 2008

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