Knuckles Brings Sonic’s World to the Small Screen in Fun, Superfluous Adventure

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Knuckles Brings Sonic’s World to the Small Screen in Fun, Superfluous Adventure

The “video game curse” is an old adage that has existed for decades, referring to the inherent difficulties in adapting videogame stories for film and TV (we’re looking at you, 2005’s live action Doom movie). But a whole lot has changed in the past decade or so.

The Last of Us, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Fallout are bona fide hits—and Paramount Pictures has turned everyone’s favorite speedster hedgehog into a full-on movie franchise that not only survived but thrived after Sonic’s design was mercifully redone following that infamous first trailer that terrified fans across the globe. 

We’re now two movies into the Sonic the Hedgehog cinematic universe, a hit franchise starring Jim Carrey, James Marsden, and the voice of Ben Schwartz as Sonic himself. A third film is slated to open around Christmas, but before that, we have this: Knuckles, a live action streaming miniseries following Sonic’s echidna warrior pal Knuckles, voiced by Idris Elba. Yes, that Idris Elba. The six-episode series basically functions as a quasi-sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, filling the gap with a smaller-scale story focusing on Knuckles and Adam Pally’s live-action character Wade Whipple, a bumbling deputy in the same small town Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles call home.

It’s worth noting the first two Sonic the Hedgehog films were both critical and commercial hits, though watching Knuckles, it feels more clear that the scene-chewing charisma of Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik and affable charm of James Marsden’s Tom are key pieces of what make the silly puzzle work so well for this world. Knuckles features some cameos and connective tissue to the film side (yes, Schwartz’s Sonic does pop in for a bit!), but the absence of those two A-listers is strongly felt in Knuckles. In their place, Pally’s Wade Whipple steps into the starring human role, as he teams up with Knuckles to go on a cross-country road trip where things… let’s just say, don’t go as planned.

The idea of following Knuckles as he tries to find his place in this universe after saving the world in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 isn’t a bad one on the surface, but the set-up itself for this particular story feels forced in how he’s teamed up with Wade to go on this adventure—especially when it’s fairly clear the goal is to get the action away from the big screen heavyweights like Sonic, Robotnik, and Tom because they are (understandably) set to headline the next big screen installment.

Then there’s the challenge of building a story around Knuckles himself. Casting Elba for the role was beyond inspired in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but Knuckles is essentially a very serious warrior without much of a sense of humor. Yes, this provides a roadmap to make him more fun across six episodes, but it makes for a weird tonal shift for fans used to the slapstick silliness of Schwartz’s Sonic headlining the films. Compound that with the seemingly random addition of a few generic new villains, and you can feel the creative team trying to thread the needle of playing in this world but not doing so much that it competes with the movies.

The series was conceived and executed by much of the same team that worked on the movies, so the connective tissue is done well, but this still feels like a story trying to find its scope and scale stuck in that weird nexus of “TV version of a movie franchise,” the same type of problem Marvel itself has run into while bringing the MCU to streaming in recent years. Like so many of these types of mid-tier adaptations, it begs the question: does this really need to exist?

Thank God that Pally is who he is, because even though the material is a bit of a mess, you can tell he’s having fun with it and really brings the comedy and heart as he digs deeper into Wade’s personal life and story. Is his personal story a bit of a zany tragedy? Sure, but Pally never plays it with a wink. If you’re a fan of Pally, you’ll find a lot to like here with his performance.

So, is Knuckles any good? It really depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re a genuine fan of the movies and this world, this can be an entertaining side story to fill the gap until the next movie. It takes the time to grow Knuckles and Wade as characters, and there are some fun set pieces and story elements here if you love this franchise. If you’re generally just looking for a good show? That’s where your mileage may vary, because the story itself is threadbare and a bit forced.

Arguably the best thing about this series (meant not so much as a slight at the show, but more a compliment to the design team) is the animated opening credits, which tell the story through doodle animations as the action jumps through Wade’s burned mix-CDs. It’s incredibly well done; it’s inventive and really sets the stage for something innovative, which sadly never quite pays off in the episodes that follow.

Come for the credits, but stay for the show at your own discretion.

Knuckles premieres April 26th on Paramount Plus.

Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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