‘Knuckles’ Is the Show Jews Need Right Now—Seriously

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Knuckles is one of the most surprising new shows of the year—yes, really. I know what you’re thinking: How could a spinoff of the incredibly popular Sonic the Hedgehog movies starring one of the franchise’s most popular characters be “surprising?” In fact, Knuckles is something of a Trojan Horse. While it presents itself as an action-packed show about Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), the no-nonsense red echidna, it’s really about his friendship with a goofy human, Wade Whipple (Adam Pally). More than that, over the course of the six-episode Paramount+ series, Knuckles mentors Wade as he competes in a major bowling tournament—see, I told you it’s surprising!

It’s not totally absent from the typical Sonic the Hedgehog hijinks, of course. Along the way, they run into dastardly foes determined to kidnap Knuckles. But in response, Wade decides to take his new bestie somewhere the bad guys would never think to look: his mother’s house. That leads to what is this series’ most special installment: a glorious, emotional, and poignant episode about a Shabbat dinner. Yes, I’m serious—the third episode (titled “The Shabbat Dinner”) of what is seemingly a big-budget action series about Knuckles from Sonic the Hedgehog is all about the weekly Jewish tradition of Shabbat.

A photo of Knuckles

Knuckles in “Shabbat Dinner“.


For those unfamiliar with Shabbat, Wade’s mother, Wendy (played by Stockard Channing, instantly entering the pantheon of great Jewish TV moms), explains it perfectly to Knuckles: “Shabbat is the day of rest. It’s about home.” Basically, according to Judaism, God created the world in six days, so on the seventh, he rested. For modern Jews, like myself, Shabbat is an opportunity to connect with family and spend time together without distraction. It’s one of those family things that you can’t stand doing as a kid, but the older you get, the more special and valuable it feels.

In-depth portrayals of Judaism on screen are so rare, and when they do appear, the focus is largely kept on bigger holidays, like Hanukkah or Passover. Rarely do we see media give time to the religion’s more regular, intimate traditions, and it’s remarkable that a show about an alien echidna has devoted an entire half hour to exploring exactly that.

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Family traditions aren’t all sweet and tender, of course. Wade didn’t realize he was rocking up to his mother’s home on Shabbat, and he has largely unpleasant memories of the occasion—his father abandoned his family when Wade was young, so most of his Shabbats involved meals gone horribly wrong, fighting with his sister, and mishaps with farm animals. For Wade, Shabbat does not conjure warm feelings; instead, it’s a crushing reminder that he’s from a broken home.

Channing as the Whipple matriarch delivers a warm and inspired performance. The details are delightful. She’s devoted to calling Knuckles “Knuchles,” with a hearty emphasis on the “ch” sound, she’s a former Krav Maga instructor, and like many wonderful Jewish mothers, family and family tradition are paramount.

At the dinner table, Wendy and Knuckles connect when talking about the history of their people. Knuckles reveals that the echidnas were wiped out by a fleet of giant owls and that he is the last of his tribe. “Our tribe has been through some tough times too,” she responds, adding, “minus the giant owls. He’s basically Jewish!”

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While Wendy bonds with Knuckles, Wade and his sister Wanda (Edi Patterson), an FBI agent, are constantly bickering, rehashing their lifelong sibling rivalry. Annoyed that Wade has caught her in a lie, Wanda retaliates by stabbing Wade with a fork. Wade justifiably freaks out, but it’s Wendy’s reaction that is most telling. She stares blankly, hand on her cheek, looking exhausted. Despite her best efforts, including cooking all of Wade’s favorites from various Jewish holidays, it’s clear that this Shabbat is set up to be a disappointment, just like every other. And there are few things more heartbreaking than a Jewish mother’s disappointment.

Later that night, Knuckles finds Wendy alone, watching Pretty Woman. She shares how the Whipples’ Friday night tradition was to have Shabbat dinner, then sit together with an old movie, basking in the warm glow of the television screen and the joy of each other’s company. Now an empty nester, Wendy cooks a whole Shabbat dinner every week, desserts and all, regardless of if her family will come or not; she just tries to keep a semblance of tradition alive. It’s a level of poignancy you wouldn’t expect from a show like Knuckles, but “The Shabbat Dinner” is nothing if not unexpected.

A photo of Adam Pally, Stockard Channing and Edi Patterson in ‘Knuckles’

Adam Pally as Wade Whipple, Stockard Channing as Wendy Whipple and Edi Patterson as Wanda Whipple come together to defend Shabbat in Knuckles.

Luke Varley/Sega/Paramount+

At the end of the episode, Knuckles reminds us that it’s supposed to be an action show, delivering a brilliant set piece to wrap things up. The baddies have found Knuckles, and they launch an assault on the Whipple house to capture him.

“Knuchles, protect the candles at all costs,” Wendy tells Knuckles before the fight breaks loose. Set to “Hava Nagila”—an iconic Jewish folk song often performed during celebrations—the camera swirls slowly around the kitchen island as Wendy and Knuckles work together to take down the invaders. Knuckles uses his physical prowess, while Wendy cleverly uses what’s available to her—dinner plates and frying pans—to keep the enemies at bay. But the whole time, the action is almost secondary to the Shabbat candles, which are always centered in the frame. The candles are important, of course, but what they represent is doubly so. Shabbat candles are a symbol of the family, of the division of light versus darkness. I cannot pretend that this funny fight scene didn’t make me cry, because tears were definitely streaming watching Wendy and Knuckles fight to protect the Shabbat candles.

They succeed, and Wade and Wanda come to the kitchen after fighting other assailants that broke into the house. The Whipple siblings expect their mother to be devastated over the destruction brought to her house, but Wendy stands quietly with a big smile on her face. Their family, which had drifted apart, is now standing together, united. Eventually, she says, fighting back tears of joy, “My kids finally came home for Shabbat… this is the best damn Shabbat dinner we’ve ever had.” Watching this family bond together as the Shabbat candles go down is honestly one of the most emotionally cathartic experiences I’ll have this year.

It’s no secret that 2024 has been a tough one for everyone, including people of Jewish faith. In recent months, antisemitism has flourished online and in the news, and religion has been frequently weaponized and politicized. A powerful, earnest celebration of the Jewish faith and the power of Shabbat feels like exactly the kind of healing that we need right now—especially during Passover, which began just days before Knuckles premiered. And this moment of beauty comes from, of all places, a show about a Sonic the Hedgehog character.

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