Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Forever Knight -- Fangs for the Memories!

With Dark Shadows hitting theater this weekend, and Johnny Depp reprising the late Jonathan Frid's TV role as tormented vampire Barnabas Collins, I thought I'd walk down memory lane by looking back at another anti-heroic TV bloodsucker who briefly commanded a cult audience. I speak, of course, of Forever Knight, a 1992-'96 skein centering on vampiric police detective Nick Knight as he makes his way through the seedy, crime-strewn underbelly of...Toronto (Yes, Toronto). Here's the show's' intro, which gives up all the necessary exposition:

Though it debuted as a series in fall of '92, Forever Knight first sprang to (undead) life in a far different configuration, airing in August of 1989 as a CBS telefilm entitled Nick Knight, starring pop singer Rick Springfield in the title role. It took three years for CBS to finally pull the trigger on the concept and take it to series, and when they finally did, the show had changed its location, its title, and its star (though, don't worry, Springfield found another superheroic role to take on...briefly). Here are some clips from the Springfield Knight:

By the time Nick Knight transformed into Forever Knight, it starred Canuck actor Geraint (JEHR-int) Wyn Davies, best known (to me anyway) as a castmember of the crappy Canadian-made fourth season of '80s helicopter hit Airwolf, who reshot the pilot film. The premise: 800 year old vampire Nick is gripped by the knowledge of the life of bloodthirst and carnage he's led, and wishes to earn his mortal soul by doing good and helping the innocent. If that premise sounds familiar, it's because it was pretty much lifted wholesale for the Buffy spin-of Angel, as well as the '07 series Moonlight (also on CBS).

Premiering as part of the Tiffany network's brief "Crimetime After Primetime" experiment, with various cheaply-made cop shows airing in the late night hour, Forever Knight distinguished itself largely by being the tallest pigmy among a crop of forgettables like Sweating Bullets and Urban Angel, managing to hang on in syndication even after most of the "Crimetime" shows got the chair (though there was yearlong gap between the first and second seasons). Knight had a compelling lead in Davies, whose torment over his past were catnip for the ladies, and his array of various vampiric superheroes allowed for the usual wish fulfillment stuff.

As it happens, the show's structure of flashback-flashforward, juxtaposing Knight's current investigations with his previous lives, made for an interesting parallel with another show about a long-lived protagonist that also premiered in fall of 1992, Highlander: The Series (discussed in detail here). All told, Knight racked up a not-unimpressive 70 episodes by the time it ended in May of 1996 with a finale that's either bold or maddening depending on your level of investment: After being forced to kill longtime love interest Natalie (Catherine Disher -- the voice of Jean Grey in the '90s X-Men animated show) rather than let her become a vampire, Nick chooses to end it all and (s)take his chances in the afterlife. Yay, feel-good ending! I tried to find a clip of the finale online, but sadly, no dice.

Forever Knight was one of the very first shows I discovered when I moved back to Chicago from Saudi Arabia, so I have a lot of fond memories of staying up later than I was supposed to on a school night and watching it with my brother. The somber opening music, with its creepy-morose narration still sets off a Pavlovian reflex that makes me want to crawl under the covers and grab the remote. While I'd argue that Angel really grabbed the premise and did a lot more with it, Forever Knight's Draculitic dick still paved the way for the others who followed.

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