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Knuckles review: Riotously entertaining Sonic spinoff

The character Knuckles, from the game Sonic the Hedgehog, flies with his fists in the air and lightning sparking out of them

Paramount+’s Knuckles gives the titular Echidna his time to shine in a furiously entertaining, visually striking limited series. 

Showrunners: John Whittington & Toby Ascher
Number of Episodes: 6
Release Date: April 26, 2024
Watch Knuckles: On Paramount+

Paramount must still be thinking that fixing the Ugly Sonic look from the original Sonic the Hedgehog might have been one of their greatest corporate decisions, because it is. Without it, the franchise would’ve absolutely petered out after the first installment, ridiculed by the masses as one of the worst transpositions from video game to screen of all time.

And we certainly wouldn’t have a second installment and the Paramount+ limited series Knuckles, which specifically focuses on the titular Echidna (voiced by Idris Elba, of The Suicide Squad) and is set between the event of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (It’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles year!) 

While you don’t need to watch any of the movies to understand Knuckles (or the show to watch Sonic the Hedgehog 3), prior knowledge of the characters and the world they live in can be helpful. However, it’s not at all a requirement, as the series serves to satisfy casual and die-hard fans alike. Picking up not long after Sonic the Hedgehog 2 left off, Knuckles is still grappling with his purpose after defeating Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey, who will reprise his role in Sonic the Hedgehog 3) and protecting the Master Emerald. 

After Sonic (Ben Schwartz, of Renfield) and Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey, reprising her role from the Sonic video games) are concerned with Knuckles’ behavior, the Echidna is visited by the ghost of Chief Pachacamac (Christopher Lloyd, of Back to the Future), who tells him he must now train a human in the ways of the Echidna Warrior, so they can find their true purpose in life. Who does he train, you may ask? Why, Sheriff Wade Whipple (Adam Pally, reprising his role from the first two Sonic movies) of course! 

Whipple wants to participate in the bowling tournament of champions, which will take place in Reno, but after his partner-in-crime Jack Sinclair (Julian Barratt, of Mindhorn) ditches him, he teams up with Knuckles in the hopes that his warrior skills will make him win the cup. However, after Knuckles leaves Green Hills, G.U.N. agents Mason (Scott Mescudi, of Don’t Look Up) and Willoughby (Ellie Taylor, of Ted Lasso) are on the lookout for the Echidna, as a mysterious man named The Buyer (Rory McCann, from Hot Fuzz) wants to take the Echidna’s powers for his own nefarious gains. 

The character Knuckles, from the game Sonic the Hedgehog, holds a chain while using his lightning power in front of a building with neon lights
Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba) in Knuckles, episode 6, season 1, streaming on Paramount+, 2024. (Paramount Pictures/Sega/Paramount+)

Funnily enough, the only element that doesn’t work in the show are the paper-thin antagonists: we rarely spend enough time with them and have difficulty understanding their motivations. Since G.U.N. was introduced in the second movie, and the series format has enough time to spend time with each individual character, there’s no excuse for not exploring more of the antagonists, as they don’t become disposable fodder whom we quickly forget as soon as the show ends. That’s what happens with both Mason and Willoughby, despite consistently fun turns by Mescudi and Taylor. And The Buyer is such a non-event of an antagonist that, when he does show up, it’s almost as if showrunners John Whittington and Toby Ascher completely forgot that he was a key player in the series and attempt to reintegrate him within the story. 

But these shortcomings seem minimal in comparison to the incredibly zany, wall-to-wall energy this show adopts from its beginnings. While the first episode attempts to closely connect audiences to the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (with Sonic, Tails, and Tika Sumpter’s Maddie Wachowski appearing), once Knuckles and Wade go on their Reno road trip, that’s where directors Jeff Fowler, Ged Wright, Brandon Trost, Jorma Taccone, and Carol Banker seem to have the most fun in the series. 

One such episode sees Wade reunite with his mother (Stockard Channing, of Grease) and sister (Edi Patterson, of The Righteous Gemstones) at a Shabbat dinner, as he has difficulty connecting with his family, while Knuckles is flummoxed at foods like Gefilte Fish, but can’t stop eating. The pitch-perfect timing between Pally, Channing, and Patterson’s dysfunctional family chemistry brings incredibly natural gut-busting laughs, as the two siblings continuously vy for attention, while the mother is more intrigued at Knuckles’ upbringing. 

It also perfectly showcases the versatile energy each director brings to the series. While Fowler bridges the gap between the Sonic movies and the series for the first episode, subsequent filmmakers bring their own style and flavor to the episodes they respectively direct. Wright stylistic homages to movies that inspired the almost brotherly relationship between Wade and Knuckles, while Trost stages a simple, but effective “revolving” kitchen fight scene, as the camera spins in 360 degrees, with Knuckles uses his powers to fight a horde of villains. 

Bar none, the best episode of the series is directed by The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, and it’s the one where Knuckles appears in it the least. Instead, Taccone stages an ultra-absurd journey of self-discovery for Wade, featuring killer costumes, split-screen duels, and the best work from both Pally and Barratt in the series. Pally’s turn as Whipple doesn’t entirely scream “leading man,” especially stepping into James Mardsen’s shoes for the series. But he more than showcases how game he is at taking Wade’s journey from grown-up boy to man in any permutation the show wants to take. 

When he eventually reunites with his father (a brilliant Cary Elwes, perhaps the best thing he’s done for his career after working with Guy Ritchie in Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre), the show dials up the absurdity and fully revels in it from the minute he gets introduced to its incredibly satisfying final action sequence. 

Knuckles: Sneak Peek (Paramount+)

There isn’t a single moment in which the storytelling choices don’t pay off in the long run, when it comes to the protagonists, who fully evolve as they learn more about themselves (and their connection to family) through riotously entertaining and exhilarating setpieces, perfect for bite-sized viewings with the family. Each episode covers a major setpiece, all as stylistically different as the last. There’s never a moment of familiarity within the stylistic approach each director gives in Knuckles – it always tries to give something new in each episode, and largely succeeds in not only delivering crowd-pleasing entertainment, but also an insanely fun self-contained spinoff story that won’t penalize viewers who didn’t watch it when they see Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Knuckles also gives the blueprint that any studio who wants to attempt transmedial storytelling should follow. No one wants to watch anything as “homework” – they want to enjoy what’s on screen without thinking too much, especially when it’s based on an IP predominantly targeted at children. Those who watch Knuckles will enjoy it, not because it directly connects itself to Sonic the Hedgehog 3, but because it tells a simple story in a visually exhilarating, hyperkinetic way, with perfectly absurd performances from Adam Pally, Julian Barratt, and Cary Elwes, who fully lean into their protagonists’ traits. 

As far as Elba’s presence in the show goes, he acts more as a guide to Wade than the central figure of the series, which could prove disappointing for fans who believe they’ll watch a show on Knuckles first and foremost. But when what’s presented on screen is so ridiculously entertaining, without fail, and puts a wall-to-wall grin on your face the entire time, why would you complain? Knuckles absolutely gets his time to shine, and Elba continues to prove why he was the perfect choice to voice the character in the first place.

But it also balances out his story with fully-developed human protagonists whom we quickly begin to love and want to spend time with. That’s a hard thing to do with a show that features Knuckles, Sonic, and Tails, but the human story never once fully steals the spotlight away from Elba’s Knuckles, who reminds audiences exactly why he stood the test of time as one of the most influential video game characters in history. Long live the Echidna!

All episodes of Knuckles will be available to stream on Paramount+ on Friday, April 26, 2024.

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