Knuckles Is Exactly What a Direct-to-Streaming Spinoff Should Be

The Paramount+ miniseries channels Sonic’s delirious fun into episodic format.

Paramount +
Inverse Reviews

The spirit of the ’90s is alive and well in Knuckles. Although the Sonic the Hedgehog TV spinoff is set in a contemporary time period, millennials will find many a hallmark from their own childhoods, from CD mixtapes to hulking wall-sized entertainment centers. Fittingly, the show’s vibe is a throwback to comedies from that era as well, for better or for worse.

Over the course of its six episodes, the miniseries continues the silly, goofy fun fans have come to expect from the Sonic franchise — and us old-timers will recall from the action-comedies of yore. There’s a comforting familiarity to the family-friendly clowning, pratfalls, and visual gags, but that nostalgic comfort comes at the cost of establishing its own clear identity: Knuckles is, at times, derivative.

Created for television by writer John Whittington and producer Toby Ascher, who were involved in the Sonic films, the miniseries sees Knuckles (Idris Elba) struggling to acclimatize to a more peaceful life on Earth. He takes on Wade Whipple (Adam Pally) as a protege, promising to carry on the legacy of his people, the Echidna warriors. Wade is facing a hero’s journey of sorts, but rather than facing some intergalactic threat, his “warrior” quest involves a road trip, a bowling tournament in Reno, and some unresolved daddy issues. Unfortunately for Wade, some rogue G.U.N. agents decide to go after Knuckles for their own personal gain, with the hapless small-town deputy caught in the crossfire.

Predictably, the majority of the show rests on Elba and Pally to carry not just the plot but also the comedy, and this results in some clear highs and lows. As the titular echidna, Elba does his best “Worf from Star Trek schtick, mining laughs from the tension between being a deadly serious warrior and mundane Earthly concerns. Pally’s Wade is on the opposite side of the spectrum: A lovable loser, he’s a small-town sheriff’s deputy with a lot of heart but not much skill. Together, the two are a classic odd couple pairing, with Elba playing the straight man to Pally’s often wacky bits.

Both Wade and Knuckles are very funny and charming supporting characters in the Sonic movie universe. However, while the characters are great in small doses, as the main protagonists, they occasionally struggle to keep up momentum. Ultimately, neither character has enough depth to fill the void left by Sonic (Ben Schwartz), Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), or even Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), and their duo act can be a bit grating as the main event. This is most apparent in the initial two episodes and is alleviated somewhat when more characters are added to the mix.

Knuckles and Wade (Adam Pally) made for a great supporting duo in the Sonic movies, but struggle to carry a series on their own.


Pally works best in situations where he can balance Wade’s childlike quirkiness against multiple “grown-up” characters. Wade’s mom, Wendy (Stockard Channing), is the miniseries’ secret weapon. She has the best onscreen chemistry with Wade and Knuckles, and she gets some of the show’s biggest laughs. It’s a shame Edi Patterson isn’t better utilized as Wade’s sister Wanda: She feels like a redux of Patterson’s hysterical turn as Judy in The Righteous Gemstones, toned down to suit kids programming. But without the outlandishly inappropriate language and behavior, Patterson’s immature schtick falls flat, especially since Pally is essentially doing the same thing.

Wisely, Whittington and Ascher opted to take Knuckles in a different narrative direction than the blockbuster movies. While the miniseries is not short on excellent CGI effects and exciting action sequences, Wade’s low-key bowling tournament mission suits the expectations for a direct-to-streaming spinoff. It’s highly unlikely the miniseries will be essential viewing for Sonic 3, and that’s exactly how it should be.

One of the many criticisms Marvel has received for its Disney+ series is that they watered down the MCU, with shows like Moon Knight and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier often feeling like overly long movies chopped into bits and weighed down by exposition. Knuckles is guilty of some similar missteps, particularly with the shoehorned B-plot involving rogue G.U.N. agents and a mysterious (and very Robotnik-y) mad scientist. Yet it avoids the worst of these trappings, and there are enough bursts of creativity in the spinoff to make it a worthwhile standalone entry.

Knuckles takes advantage of the TV format, playing with form in exciting and fun ways.


The Paramount+ series is at its best when it’s at its most unhinged, clearly delineating itself from its movie counterparts. An entire episode is dedicated to Knuckles having Shabbat dinner at Wade’s childhood home — it sounds dumb, but it really worked. (Knucks discovering gefilte fish is delightful.) A miniseries format allows creators to do things they couldn’t do in a blockbuster movie, and to its credit, Knuckles embraces that freedom.

There are several scenes in Knuckles that experiment with form and tone, injecting some much-needed personality into an otherwise conventional spinoff. A clear highlight is an extended rock-opera dream sequence that channels local-theater-group energy, complete with puppets (and elevated by Michael Bolton’s sultry vocals). Another standout is a frenetic one-take fight sequence in which the camera spins around the kitchen island while Wendy and Knucks fight off bad guys with frying pans. This chaotic, gleeful mess is the Knuckles that we deserve, and it’s a shame so much screentime gets taken up by standard action-film content.

Knuckles loves the ’90s almost as much as the rest of us.


Knuckles is in many ways a love letter to millennial childhoods. The movie’s tone feels like the family-friendly action-comedies that dominated the ’90s and early aughts, with vibrant colors, cheesy villains, and over-the-top smashy-smashy set pieces. The aesthetic features exaggerated artifice alongside grounded real-life content — it’s campy without being camp proper, similar to Austin Powers, Spy Kids, or The Mask. At the same time, the overreliance on familiar tropes and themes holds Knuckles back. The overall plot is predictable, and many of the gags are not as funny for the grown-ups in the room who have seen this done before (and better). Arguably, the show would have benefitted from less movie-quality fight scenes and the entire G.U.N. subplot and more time exploring the road trip format.

Flaws aside, Knuckles is a perfectly enjoyable six-episode outing for the Sonic franchise. It’s better than most direct-to-consumer movie sequels, and deserves credit for some bold choices. It’s unlikely to win over those who didn’t like the movies, but it may convert some newcomers. And it’s good content for parents who just want to watch something with their kids.

All six episodes of Knuckles drop April 26 on Paramount+.

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