Why The Knuckles TV Show Owes a Debt to a Derided Sonic Series

Paramount+'s live-action Knuckles series could have drawn from any beloved source in the Sonic franchise but brilliantly chose this instead.

Knuckles in his titular live-action TV series.
Photo: Paramount Pictures | Sega | Paramount+

This article contains spoilers for the entire Knuckles live-action TV-series.

Knuckles the Echidna. He’s rougher than the rest of them, the best of them, tougher than leather, as his famous theme song boasts. Introduced all the way back in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on Sega Genesis as the titular hero’s nemesis, the spike fisted loner has gone on to become a key part of the franchise’s cast. Reinterpreted over the years as everything from a rapping treasure hunter in Sonic Adventure to a chosen-one savior that, as a baby egg, was nuked by radiation in the Archie comic series.

The Sonic movies haven’t been shy about drawing direct inspiration from past incarnations of the franchise to help inspire their stories so where does the Knuckles series take its main inspiration from? The Genesis games with their lightning quick action? The much-beloved Sonic Adventure series and its focus on Knuckles’ treasure hunting? The newest animated series in the franchise, Sonic Prime, featuring trips across the multiverse?

No. The Knuckles show goes to the most unexpected place imaginable. The core DNA that makes up this live-action series is the Sonic Boom animated series, an over-the-top comedic take on the franchise based on the massively derided Sonic Boom video games. Like that series, Knuckles is an out-and-out comedy. Continuing the movies’ depiction of Sonic and Tails as young children, Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba) functions as a destructive kid obsessed with honor and glorious battles. In the first episode the little red dude attempts to force the family dog into a deathmatch with the local mailman. He’s like if Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation starred in a comedy.

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In his titular show, Knuckles is portrayed as a well-meaning warrior but his obsession with honor and unfamiliarity with the ways of humans and Earth makes him come off as kind of a dummy. This himbo-like nature directly draws from Knuckles in Sonic Boom, which utilized Knuckles as the loveable idiot of the group to great advantage. When Sonic was afraid of taking a swim class with little kids, Knuckles suggested that “he beat up the biggest one in the yard.” Asked if he could remember a huge moment from his life, Knuckles was only able to recall it when Tails reminded him of the snacks he ate. Faced with a set of IKEA instructions with no words and only pictures, Knuckles proudly proclaimed, “just like the novel I’m writing!”

The Knuckles series doesn’t just draw characterization from Sonic Boom but most importantly its satire and unhinged humor. In the Sonic Boom season 1 episode “Just a Guy,” Sonic attempts to deal with the annoying Mike the Ox by going to his “happy place” in his imagination. On an idyllic beach in his mind, Sonic thinks he can relax … until Mike the Ox somehow finds him there. Sonic, already in his imaginary happy place, goes to an even deeper happy place … where Mike still manages to find him. An alarm sends Sonic up and out of his depper happy place to his regular happy place to reality but then keeps going and cuts to live-action footage where a human man in a Sonic costume turns to the camera and says, “oops, one too many.”

It’s exactly this kind of bizarre humor the Knuckles series excels at. Episode 4, “The Flames of Disaster” features a massive rock opera segment inside the head of Wade (Adam Pally), the lead bumbling human character that accompanies Knuckles. Wade, dressed up in a shabby Knuckles costume, acts out Knuckles’ life story alongside an entire stage of humans also in costume. When the song crescendos into the death of Knuckles’ father, Wade holds the human man playing the role. Suddenly, the camera cuts to the father and he’s no longer a human in a suit. He’s a puppet and when he dies, his eyes turn into X’s.

Knuckles blatantly doesn’t care about any kind of “realism” or “making sense.” It’s willing to do whatever it needs to get a laugh out of the audience, just like Sonic Boom. That series utilized a rare appearance of the anti-hero Shadow the Hedgehog to have him criticize Sonic’s shoddy craftsmanship in building IKEA furniture. In another episode, “Chili Dog Day Afternoon,” Knuckles seeks out a rare pepper only to find a whole race of sentient war-obsessed peppers. They declare war on Sonic and friends until the peppers are pacified by soaking in chili, which the peppers themselves eat.

In Knuckles, when Wade loses his spot on a bowling team to a little girl, Knuckles fights to protect Shabbat candles, or the story gets shockingly emotional about T.J. Maxx, the DNA of Sonic Boom can clearly be seen. There’s also numerous little moments throughout the show that callback to that animated series. In the opening theme of Knuckles there’s a shot of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles performing in a band, much like in Sonic Boom when the three performed as “Dude-itude.” Much of Knuckles involves a road trip, a plot that Sonic Boom used to great effect and perhaps its best joke when Sonic is given a ticket for speeding and says, “I’ll fight it in court, but I don’t think they’ll accept “gotta go fast” as a medical condition.”

Knuckles’ use of Sonic Boom style humor is one that’s sure to catch a lot of fans off guard but one that ultimately makes it a joy to watch. What’s better than a show that has scenes like Knuckles watching Pretty Woman and commenting, “I don’t understand. This young street worker, with a heart made of gold, why do the others treat her with such disdain? Is it so wrong to walk the streets?”

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Knuckles is now streaming on Paramount+.