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Knuckles: The Kotaku Review

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Wade holds a sword on a bike.

It’s a good thing Knuckles, the six-episode Paramount+ mini-series is coming out during a fever pitch of hype for Sonic the Hedgehog 3. The series debuts on the streaming service on April 26, during a time when fans are dying to get back into the live-action universe off of announcements like Keanu Reeves playing the Blue Blur’s rival, Shadow the Hedgehog. And Knuckles serves as a succinct reminder both of what these movies actually are and what they’re not.

Let’s get the good out of the way first (it won’t take long). Cyberpunk 2077 and Luther star Idris Elba continues to kill it as Knuckles in the live-action Sonic universe. He remains committed to the bit and does wonders with the material he’s given. Elba was easily the best part of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and remains the bright spot in the Knuckles show. It’s just a damn shame the rest of the show doesn’t even attempt to match his level.

Knuckles is barely in his own show

To set the record straight: Knuckles is not a show about the titular echidna. It is about Adam Pally’s Wade Whipple, the comic relief cop who was tolerable in low doses in the Sonic the Hedgehog movies but takes the spotlight of almost the entire six-episode show to irredeemable diminishing returns. See, Knuckles is listless after joining Sonic and Tails on Earth in the second movie, so in an effort to find some purpose on this new planet, he agrees to train Wade for a bowling tournament in Reno. A road trip ensues, and they’ve got a group of bounty hunters on their tail—it’s not too dissimilar from the original Sonic movie that had Ben Schwartz’s speedy hedgehog buddying up with a cop for a road trip. The trouble is, if you thought the Sonic movies’ detours into its human characters’ lives were maddening for a few minutes, Knuckles’ division between its two leads is so lopsided I don’t even know why the show is named after him.

Image: Paramount

Wade wears out his welcome by the end of nearly every scene, or in some cases, line delivery. Pally is clearly having an absolute blast when the show devolves into its wackiest hijinks, like a musical number and an elaborate action-movie rescue mission fantasy. I find him endearing as an actor, but every extended bit lasts just long enough to become grating. That’s not anyone’s fault, but the writers who write jokes for kids they assume have no concept of comedic timing and think they’ll only laugh at a man shrieking and/or out of breath.

Knuckles and Wade’s dynamic of a self-serious warrior and the absolute biggest doofus this side of your high school graduation should work. It could be such a fun inversion of that first movie, in which Sonic was the uncontrollable force while being reined in by the most good ol’ boy cop you can fathom. But Knuckles is conspicuously absent from large swaths of the show, and there’s nothing to contrast Wade’s whimsy.

Even when Knuckles is around, he’s not actually doing much of anything. He makes the decision to train Wade at the beginning, punches baddies when they show up, and then disappears without explanation for chunks of time. Whenever Knuckles is not on screen, all the other characters should be asking, “Where’s Knuckles?” But nobody ever does. I simply ask it into the open air of my apartment office as I watch Wade get stabbed by a fork by his abrasive FBI sister. (Note: Knuckles was across the dinner table in this scene, but a lot of care was taken to make sure he said nothing of substance so the camera didn’t have to pan to him.)

Knuckles holds a chain as Wanda cowers behind a broken chair.

Image: Paramount

Sometimes, Knuckles uses its alleged protagonist’s passive role in Wade’s story to some surprisingly touching effect. There’s actually a surprisingly poignant episode in which Knuckles learns about Wade’s family and their Jewish history, all carried by Stockard Channing’s portrayal of Wade’s mother. And at times, the action sequences perfectly marry the fantastical elements of the Sonic series with the live-action series’ focus on original, human characters in a way that is genuinely delightful. But those moments are few and far between, because Knuckles doesn’t know how to juggle its human (literal, not figurative) elements and the story we came here for.

What does Knuckles mean for the Sonic live-action universe?

This is a problem the Sonic movies have been struggling with since 2020, but it’s hardly the only problem that persists here. The product placement is so blatant that it feels like entire scenes were made to show our hero holding a bag of Doritos, and the show relies too heavily on licensed needle drops when an excellent video game soundtrack is right there for the taking. Half of its jokes are pop culture references, which worked with the first movie when that was Sonic’s connection to the rest of the world, but here it feels like the writers are running out of material.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was at its best when it leaned into all the video game dressings that make the series so special. Knuckles is the video game adaptation equivalent of LaCroix tasting like water that sat next to a fruit on the way to the store, rather than sparkling water with a delicious fruity kick. Sure, it’s got some video game stuff in it, but nothing significant enough to make it feel like more than just a cash-in on a recognizable, beloved character without much payoff. By the time I was midway through the show, my hopes that Knuckles would be more than a family sitcom with an echidna passing through were shattered.

Knuckles sits on a makeshift Iron Throne.

Image: Paramount

Knuckles is a useful show to watch in the months between now and Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s premiere on December 20. Right now, we’re excited about the stacked cast, hints that it might be an adaptation of the much-beloved Sonic Adventure 2, and promise that it will include that game’s iconic theme song somewhere in the film. But this show has dragged me back to Earth faster than Space Colony Ark barreling toward the surface of the planet. With a bigger budget, I don’t expect Sonic, his friends, and his rival to be sidelined the way Knuckles was here, but Knuckles reminds me that these movies are still aiming for the friendliest of family-friendly vibes. Any hope I had that we’d see the full extent of Shadow’s tragic backstory has gone out the window. I don’t think these movies can even conceive of it.

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