The classic ’80s television series Knight Rider became available to stream on Netflix on Dec. 1. For the uninitiated, the show featured a former police officer, Michael Knight, who teamed up with an AI-enhanced Pontiac Firebird Trans Am named KITT. The smart car was bulletproof, could jump over objects — and talk. The premise provided material for four television seasons plus the less-than-stellar sequel made-for-TV movie, Knight Rider 2000. It debuted in 1991 and was set in the “future” in the year 2000. Nevertheless, new viewers might recognize more than they expect.
In the original series, the show focused on the weekly adventures of Knight, “a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law,” as the show’s opening credits state. But in the pseudo-dystopian future of Knight Rider 2000, the “innocent, the helpless, the powerless” are victimized by the poor policy decisions of government officials who are more worried about the welfare of criminals than the everyday citizen.
The movie has two plot points in common with the real-life politics of 2021.
The first plot point involves guns. In the “future,” handguns are banned from use, even by police. Due to “prison overpopulation and harsh conditions,” criminals were to be cryonically frozen for the terms of their sentence instead of imprisoned. To no one’s surprise, there is a surge in murders and other violent crime.
After a mayor is assassinated with “an illegal handgun,” one of the good guys in the film, Russell Maddock, argues with Police Commissioner Ruth Daniels for a return to stricter punishment to restore the deterrence lost when criminals were granted the ability merely to sleep through their sentences instead of serving time. The conversation sounds a lot like our debates in 2021.
“First, you ban capital punishment, and then you ban handguns from everyone, including your own police,” Maddock exclaimed. “The wrong people are getting shot!”
The commissioner argues the humanitarian reforms have no downside. “Cryogenic incarceration saves an estimated $1.5 billion per year while solving the problem of prison overcrowding and cruel conditions,” Daniels says.
Maddock replies with, “Whose side are you on, anyway?”
The second plot point involves police officer Shawn McCormick, one of the main characters of the film, being shot and left for dead. Her life is only saved as a result of an experimental new medical procedure that an idealistic doctor performs — against the wishes of the police commissioner, who only cares about “scanning the police officer’s brain waves” in an attempt to identify the shooter.
“But our budget deficit is already in the high seven figures,” the commish protests. “We literally cannot afford” the medical procedure to save the life of one of his officers. Later, after a healed McCormick finds out that the commissioner chose dollars over her life, the two have a tense exchange, punctuated by McCormick’s accusation: “Anti-capital punishment for criminals but pro-euthanasia for your own cops?”
Protecting and coddling criminals at the expense of innocent people, viewing police officers as expendable collateral damage in the process? Perhaps the dated, campy show retains a timeless theme.
The timing of the beloved series’ return to screens is purely coincidental but comes at a time when energetic and trendy criminal-justice reforms have, at the very least, done nothing to prevent the increases in violent crime in cities throughout the country: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York are experiencing record numbers of homicides and other violent crime.
Between woke programming and the love for “complicated anti-heroes,” the TV landscape into which Knight Rider reemerges from its cryonic hibernation is very different from its own era of crystal-clear themes. And Knight Rider 2000, especially, presents a political regression so severe its leaders have forgotten one of its primary principles: protecting the citizenry. In its own way, the United States seems to have gone from “establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare” to district attorneys diligently working to protect criminals and keep them out of jail. And, just as in Knight Rider 2000, the result has been a disastrous loss of life.
Despite our liberal representatives’ talking points, “the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless” is left for others to take up. Even mediocre spinoff made-for-TV movies 30 years ago knew how dangerous such an abdication is destined to be.
Christopher Tremoglie is a Washington Examiner writing fellow.