“I’ve never seen so many people so crazy over a car…”
– Knight Rider: “K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.”
I don’t know exactly what it is about “evil twins,” but cult television programs certainly love them, don’t they? Perhaps it’s just a matter of production exigencies. It’s cheaper to feature a lead actor as an “evil” version of himself than hire an expensive guest star, I suppose.
Or perhaps, on a psychological level, we are all just fascinated by the concept of an evil twin. Two brothers (or sisters), both from one family. But one is twisted and evil while the other is heroic and good. Maybe we cherish this trope, subconsciously, because it helps to explain our own unique families of origins.
Me? I’m the good one. But my brother? He’s pure evil. He took all the lessons my father and mother taught us…and twisted them for EVIL!
Data (Brent Spiner) the android has an evil twin, Lore, in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994). The witch, Samantha Stephens has a troublesome “cousin,” Serena (Elizabeth Montgomery) on Bewitched (1964 – 1972), and so on.
So, I suppose it’s inevitable that the talking car on Glen Larson’s Knight Rider (1982 – 1986), K.I.T.T. (William Daniels) — the “Knight Industries Two Thousand” — would also have an evil automative twin, the deep-voiced, malicious K.A.R.R (Paul Frees).
As Lore is to Data, so is K.A.R.R. (Knight Automoted Roving Robot) to K.I.T.T.: An early, unstable prototype eventually de-activated by its creator, Wilton Knight (rather than Noonien Soong) for safety reasons.
In the first season Knight Rider episode “Trust Doesn’t Rust,” the morally-challenged K.A.R.R. is
discovered in storage and re-activated by a pair of crooks, who then utilize the “evil” Trans Am for a crime spree. Knight Rider’s hero, the jocular Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) outwits K.A.R.R. in a game of chicken, and sends the evil twin plunging down off a cliff into the ocean (apparently re-using stock footage from The Car ).
In season three’s “K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.” there’s a re-match between these 1982 Pontiac Trans Am titans. Round two commences when pair of beach combers, John (Jeffrey Osterhage) and Mandy (Jennifer Holmes), discover that K.A.R.R. is perfectly operational, only buried in the sand. They use their truck to excavate the car, and soon K.A.R.R. is attempting to enlist John in all manners of criminal activity. He damages the pace-maker of John’s employer so John can take ownership of his company. And then K.A.R.R. uses his programming to steal money from a new-fangled ATM machine.
Meanwhile, Michael (Hasselhoff), K.I.T.T. (Daniels), Bonnie (Patricia McPherson) and Devon (Edward Mulhare) are understandably concerned that K.A.R.R. is back on the scene. Michael worries because K.A.R.R. — admittedly just a very intelligent machine — seems to “corrupt everyone he touches.”
Bonnie believes she has a solution to the K.A.R.R. dilemma. She wants to install new lasers on K.I.T.T. “I can double its penetration!” she enthuses, a suggestive line of dialogue played absolutely straight but which cheekily reinforces the widely-acknowledged love relationship that exists between mankind and his cars.
Unfortunately, K.A.R.R. launches a frontal assault on the Knight Industry rolling laboratory (in the back of a truck) and steals the penetrating lasers from Bonnie in an impressive and unexpected action sequence.
Finally, Michael and K.I.T.T. play another game of chicken with K.A.R.R. and once more, K.A.R.R. seems destroyed. Miraculously, K.I.T.T. himself is completely unscathed after a mid-air, turbo-boosted, head-on collision, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. K.A.R.R. just sort of explodes into debris, but you’d think both cars would suffer equal damage.
“K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.” motors along at about seventy-five miles an hour, juiced by an unfettered delight in its own silliness. The writing isn’t exactly bad so much as droll, or cheeky. It looks like everyone, especially David Hasselhoff, is having fun, and the dialogue is filled with zingers. “I’ll bet George Lucas drives one of these things,” says John, getting behind K.A.R.R.’s steering wheel.
When I was a kid, I watched Knight Rider religiously on Friday nights. And the episodes with oversized, science fictional-type threats (such as K.A.R.R., or the truck, Goliath), were always my favorites. Tales of Michael and K.I.T.T. putting away small-time crooks just didn’t appeal to me. But whenever those evil twins — and Michael also had an evil twin, named Garth, if I recall — rolled out, I was hooked.
Today, “K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R.” seems a bit simplistic and a bit silly, but it hasn’t lost one iota of fun. I don’t know why the Michael/K.I.T.T. relationship (sort of a Kirk/Spock type of thing) remains so vital, but it does. As William Jeanes wrote in The Saturday Evening Post
last year: “Cars are like clothing. Life would go on without them, but it wouldn’t be the same. To someone like me, who has always believed that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, it seems only right that we live in a nation with more cars than drivers. A preponderance of Americans agrees with me, which is why we as a country have carried on a 125-year love affair with the automobile
I suspect that, not-too secretly, we all desire a talking car as a friend, one as loyal and smart as K.I.T.T. One who can keep us company as we get from Point A to Point B. And that the car should actually believe he is superior than us — while simultaneously learning the rules of human relationships — just makes the friendship all the sweeter. Why aren’t we all driving talking cars, today?
Nostalgia plays a big part in my fondness for Knight Rider. The series is like a time capsule of 1980s fashions and pop tunes. I’ve watched a few episodes on a DVD compilation called “Best of the 1980s” and you can get the gist of every episode while reading a magazine, doing your taxes, or solving algaebric equations. There’s nothing too mentally taxing here, yet the show is undeniably fun.
Of course, if you’ll pardon the expression, your mileage may vary…