Saturday, January 05, 2008

Forever Knight – season 1 – review (TV series)

Directed by: Various

First aired: 1992

Contains spoilers

After the pilot show Nick Knight died a death the concept was resurrected as this show, which ran for three seasons. Whilst the first two episodes of season 1 were a remake, plot identical, to the original pilot there were major changes. The first being that Rick Springfield was no longer Nick Knight and that role went to Geraint Wyn Davies – who had played a vampire before in Dracula the Series. Other changes included a move from LA to Toronto and a major cast change all through – leaving only John Kapelos as an original actor in the role of Nick’s partner Det. Don Schanke.

We will look at the major characters soon but one cannot help but compare this to the original pilot. It was clear that the budget was sliced severely. The film stock quality is lower and the effects not nearly as good, one might go as far as to say it looked cheap comparatively. One thing it did however was tighten up the scripting. I thought the story (whilst essentially the same in episode 1 and 2) was much tighter, the script had been tightened up and the directing was more on track. The chemistry between major characters was better as well.

Of course our main character was Nick Knight, the vampire who has repented and is seeking humanity whilst working as a homicide cop. The show changed his background, he was 800 years old rather than 200 years old. His original name was Nicholas de Brabant rather than Jean Paul and he had been a crusader before being turned. Many of the unanswered questions from the original – how did he insinuate himself into the police service, how did he cope with courts during the day etc. where either touched on or answered in the series.

Davies' performance was very different to that of Springfield. He often seemed less than tortured – though that had much more to do with the stand alone, very standard cop drama storylines and devices that littered the show, which necessitated a cheesy smile into status quo at the end. Springfield seemed more natural but Davies’ curt, theatrical delivery actually suited the character.

His partner Schanke was the one character that maintained the original actor, but even he changed. Whilst the source of humour in the show, Kapelos toned the performance down for the series and the character worked better for it. There were some awful one liners but also some nice ones, including the throw away about George Hamilton in Love at First Bite, “a tanned vampire, what a jerk.” That said Schanke was a pretty poor cop, after all twenty two episodes and not once did he think that Knight was anything more than an eccentric with a rare skin condition.

The biggest change came in the casting of the pathologist who knows Nick’s secret and is trying to help Nick become human. Switching from male to female, the role of Dr Natalie Lambert went to Catherine Disher. The show actually answered how they got to meet each other, which was unexpected and nice, and changed the dynamics between the two. There is an under-current of a mutual attraction between her and Nick but the show failed to exploit it, in this series at least.

Of the vampires, the main two were Janette (Deborah Duchene) who was much more seductive than she had been portrayed in Nick Knight and LaCroix (Nigel Bennett). LaCroix seemingly dies after two episodes and appears in flashbacks (we’ll get to those). Somehow Bennett never seemed to come across as the dark overlord that really was apparent in the original performance by Michael Nader. This was in his look more than anything.

Sharp eyed viewers will spot small roles for other actors littering the show. There are a couple of Stargate Atlantis staples – both David Hewlett and Torri Higginson make appearances. There is also a one episode appearance by Carrie-Anne Moss who appears as a 12 step programme addict in one of the more fascinating episodes.

Vampire lore is pretty much as described in Nick Knight but we have some definite answers and a little confusion. The vampires have hypnotic abilities – though Nick seems to use them rarely. There is also a vampire vision thing going on but it is used very sparingly in the series. One naff effect was an orange glow around vampiric eyes that was clearly an orange light projected onto the actor’s face. Flight was in human mode, rather than bat, and reflections in the mirror were fudged with the throwaway commentary about Nick having one now and him saying sometimes.

We know for definite that crosses burn. In his quest for humanity Nick has progressed from bursting into flame when touching a cross to having his skin seared – something he sees as an improvement. The real confusion came in with regards turning (or bringing over, as it is termed). The show cannot make up its mind if draining to the point of death or a fluid transfer is needed.

There were some interesting episodes, though some became lost in staple show dialect or even the time they were created. There is one of the more interesting episodes about a singer trapped in fame that is marred by Nick’s visions being lifted straight from MTV type video stylisation. It hasn’t aged well. The show also used a device of showing Nick all moody and playing voice-overs of pertinent lines from the show. The first time they did it, it seemed arty. Later I realised they were filler moments when the episode was under-running.

The biggest failing of the show was to not have an overriding arc. Each episode was stand alone and to suggest that Nick’s quest for humanity was the arc would be a blatant over-simplification. A nice juicy, on-running story arc would have improved the show immeasurably. It was to the point that there was no real cliff hanger in the final episode and so we are shown that LaCroix isn’t really dead – not a show-stopper at all.

But one cannot underestimate the place this has in TV history. This precursored Buffy and Angel, it was around before the X-Files. No, it wasn’t the first such series but it did have elements those future shows would use. Vampire detective (for Angel) is obvious. An episode where part is a COPS type show, something X Files later did, is there and the show had a lot of period pieces showing Nick’s past – something both Buffy and Angel would use as well.

Unfortunately, these were not flashbacks for the audience but, more often than not, Nick’s memories. There seemed to be a theme of “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately this didn’t work fully as Nick remembered and more often than not repeated. Nether-the-less it was a good device and added a depth to the character that might have otherwise been missing. As Nick hadn’t fed on a human for 100 years going into the past also allowed for vampiric action – it was just a shame that many of the vampires looked ill when they attacked, due to the style of the fangs used I guess.

The first season is flawed but fascinating. Overtones of cop genre standard devices aside this is well worth watching. I’m looking forward to the next two seasons. 6 out of 10.

The series’ imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

You hit all of the major gripes I had with this show. 6/10 objectively is right on the money. As stated in my earlier comments, "FK" was the only thing of its kind at the time of airing, so I tend to appreciate the show for nostalgic (and dare I say it, historic) reasons. But if it came out now...yeah, you get the idea. The cop show elements were far too mundane or, on the other end of the spectrum, inappropriately bizarre. Wait until you see the one about the asteroid hurtling towards Earth.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Derek. Bizarely I had just watched an episode before checking for comments and it was the asteroid one.

That said, if they did it now hopefully things would be different in the approach. Think how Battlestar Galactica was updated masterfully to, imho, one of the best TV series ever aired. Imagine if they did similar with FK! (Before anyone reading this suspects that is a possibility, as far as I am aware it isn't)

Season 2 will be reviewed early next week, season 3 a little while after if I can maintain watching time!

Anonymous said...

I have yet to see BSG (no cable, don't want to shell out for the DVDs), but I understand that it is excellent. I noticed how the early critics largely shut up when it began airing.

I'd love to see FK re-imagined, along the same lines. Weirdly enough, after seeing the "Night Stalker" re-do recently, I think Stuart Townsend would make a perfect Nick Knight.

Incidentally, "Moonlight" is getting better after a shaky start. The vampires are more like humanoid cats than anything (leap really high, excellent climbing skills, retractable claws, sleep all day), but it is starting to get fun.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Derek - cheers for the Moonlight update - it hasn't got over the pond yet.

Townsend, I can see where you are coming from, however I prefered him as Dorian Grey and Lestat than Kolchak - he had so much arrogance, and was the best thing in both films referenced, perhaps he'd make a better LaCroix?

Anonymous said...

I can't think of Townsend as THE Carl Kolchak (frankly, if they wanted to stay true to the character, Ed O'Neill would have been perfect), but I think he played an interesting character who happened to also be named "Carl Kolchak." ;)

I think he would be an interesting Nick Knight. Bringing an air of arrogance would set him apart from the standard "guilt-stricken, do-gooder vampire."

They sort of did something similar with "Moonlight." One of the characters, the oldest vampire in L.A. and a pseudo-Lacroix character, was designed to be played by an older man. Instead, the series cast a rather flip young guy. It is one of the best wrinkles of that show.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

That's probably the best way to look at the new Night Stalker. To be honest I like Townsend, so to see him as either Knight or LaCroix would be a treat.

Alexa Chipman said...

I was listening to Zombie A and the morgue episode and I can't remember which FK episode it was, but one of them showed a flashback to when he was in the morgue that I rather liked. I have to admit I was secretly hoping it would be mentioned among the morgue references in Zombie's episode 50.

For years I hated anything to do with vampires, I thought it was stupid and nothing but sensual sensational rubbish. It wasn't until a mate wouldn't let FK drop that I finally went and watched series 1 just to shut her up. It completely changed my opinions on vampires and slowly I've started wading into others. I don't like all of them, but I do like a few-- probably I'm still in the "eye candy" area as I prefer either gorgeous sets or interesting historical storylines. The thing that fascinates me about vampires is the idea of living that long through time and history, so I prefer the ones that have plots involving historical flashbacks.

Forever Knight often has historical flashbacks in it, which I hugely enjoy and wish more vampire related films used. They seem to be either firmly set in the past or firmly set current/future. None of those beautiful parallel pieces that FK uses, like the one with the harp.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Alexa, sorry its taken a while to comment back. The scene you mention is - I assume - the one where Nick comes round in the morgue and Nat finds his secret - great scene and I should have mentioned it - your absolutely right

I'm glad that you found a route into the vampire genre - it is a rich genre and thus has stuff that is disliked as well as stuff that is liked.

All the best


LoBo said...

I just started to watch the first season of my imported German DVDs, earlier this month. It was actually Zaranyzerak from YouTube that inspired me to buy it after watching his video:

I certainly enjoy to watch it. I like all the characters.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

hope they continue to entertain LoBo :)