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Knuckles review – Idris Elba’s Sonic spin-off is ludicrous, hilarious and actually rather moving
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Knuckles review – Idris Elba’s Sonic spin-off is ludicrous, hilarious and actually rather moving

Giving a supporting character their own spin-off is a risky business. For every brilliant series such as Better Call Saul, Frasier or Angel (series one, two, three and five), there’s a grave miscalculation in the form of a Joey, The Book of Boba Fett or Angel (series four). After the runaway success of the Sonic films, which have a third instalment on the way, Paramount+ has selected Knuckles, the steely echidna, for the spin-off treatment – and for all the brazen product placement and IP cash-grabbing, it’s a risk that pays off.

Idris Elba reprises his role from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 , as a hot-tempered and self-serious red echidna warrior from space who, as we are frequently reminded, is the last of his kind after an owl-led genocide took his home planet. Having been briefly tricked by Doctor Robotnik (a thankfully absent scenery-chewing Jim Carrey) to fight for the bad guys in the previous film, he has now teamed up with Sonic and Tails and moved in with the Wachowskis (Tika Sumpter and a puzzlingly absent James Marsden). This set-up is not going especially well as the series begins, due to Knuckles’s tendency to start the day by punching boulders and attempting to train the “wolf” (actually a docile labrador) to be a fierce warrior. With all the smashed walls and echinadian fighting rituals, Knuckles finds himself grounded. But he soon defies the punishment to hit the road with Wade Whipple (Adam Pally), a hapless but sweet-natured deputy sheriff, to help him become a bowling champion. Naturally, as this is a Sonic spin-off there’s also some fighting to be done and Knuckles and Wade find themselves pursued by two former G.U.N agents played by Kid Cudi and British comedian Ellie Taylor.

The agents’ shenanigans are well performed by Taylor, despite a truly befuddling wig choice, and rapper Cudi shows off some impressive comic timing, but there’s little else to recommend their subplot. It’s not entirely clear what their motives are beyond generic evil-doing, and the action sequences are just as uninspiring as the cacophony of CGI nonsense that happens in the third act of the Sonic films. Wisely, the series devotes most of its time to the charming odd-couple dynamic between Pally and Elba. It’s a strange thing to say that the pair have wonderful chemistry given that Elba isn’t, y’know, actually there, but the two actors somehow bring the best out of each other’s performances, and Knuckles ends up being frequently hilarious and occasionally rather moving.

The stakes are upped when the pair spend the series’ best episode in the home of Wade’s mother, Wendy (an excellent Stockard Channing) and have Shabbat dinner with her and Wade’s hyper-competitive sister Wanda (Edi Patterson). Here, Knuckles learns about Judaism and how the bowling tournament will see Wade face off against his estranged father (a scenery-chewing-but-in-a-good-way Cary Elwes) who abandoned him as a child in a TJ Maxx. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is, and the further the series leans into its silly side, the better it becomes.

The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt appears in a series of costumes, each more ludicrous than the last, culminating in a wonderfully silly owl ensemble, and Channing explains the plot of Pretty Woman before having a fight sequence where her weapon of choice is a frying pan. There are musical numbers involving Wade dressed as an echidna performing Knuckles’ story while Michael Bolton sings, and Knuckles learns that he loves a good challah. Away from the earnest heroics of Sonic, the show runs with the absurdity of its premise and takes advantage of the freedom when adapting a story for a more minor character in this fictional universe.

It’s the B-movie energy of Knuckles that elevates it far above the charmless films that introduced him, and the further he gets from his adopted clan of Sonic, Tails and the Wachowskis the better. For a character who is the last of his kind, you should be rooting for him to return to his newfound family; instead, you end up praying Knuckles never returns. Elba has already been announced as lending his vocal talents to the upcoming Sonic sequel, which has also somehow recruited Keanu Reeves to play Shadow the Hedgehog. But, after that film ends with some inevitable smashing and some heavy-handed metaphor about the importance of friendship, one can only hope that Knuckles returns to the smaller screen, hits the road with Stockard Channing again and embraces being wonderfully weird. Pally and Elba have proven with this show that having “main character energy” isn’t everything.

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Source: theguardian.com