In the early-to-mid-’90s, no one pretended cop shows had to resemble reality. Instead, major networks produced shows like Cop Rock, a jaw-droppingly strange singing procedural, and Moloney, about a cop who’s also a shrink. Unsurprisingly, both Cop Rock and Moloney ran for a single season each before disappearing amid the various Law & Orders. But from this era of “cop who is also X” came the unlikely cult hit Forever Knight, which boldly asked: What if a cop were a vampire … and, moreover, Canadian?
On its surface, Forever Knight fit right in with the other series filling Canadian prime time when it debuted in 1992, with a certain candlelit, Vaseline-y haze that elicited the feeling, if not the reality, of a saxophone solo — a soft-goth Canadiana aesthetic shared by everything from the goofy-spooky Are You Afraid of the Dark? to Skor bar commercials. But Forever Knight both was and was not like other CanCon. Sure, it was a Toronto-set police procedural that shot in locations like the Royal Ontario Museum, but the show was a lot higher-concept than most, following the wildly eventful career of homicide detective Nick Knight, who happens to be a horny 800-year-old Gallic vampire with a soul (same). As the promotional material asserted, “When the sun goes down, so does the crime rate.” And based on the number of women he hooks up with, so too does Detective Knight.
The show is premised on the idea that Nick Knight (who was once a literal knight) became a cop because he was plagued by his conscience, thus acquiring a taste for punitive justice. This doesn’t altogether track when you consider Nick’s gross body count throughout his lengthy existence as both a vampire and a slut. The wild card on the force, Detective Knight sometimes apprehends perps by flying at them, eyes aglow. Even so, people are constantly getting murdered during the show’s three seasons, often in the cold open — it’s hard to tell if Nick’s vampire-cop tactics are affecting the crime rate at all. Mostly, he tools around Toronto in his teal Caddy on his way to question some babe of interest.
And you know what? It’s great. Forever Knight makes a meal of the horny gaze, abundantly populating scenes with smoldering glances, billowing windbreakers, rose petals, and close-ups of bra straps. Investigative leads take Nick to strip clubs, lingerie photo shoots, and latex-curtained dungeons. Forever Knight began as a late-’80s made-for-TV movie starring Rick Springfield (!) before it was recast for the series with the Welsh Canadian Shakespearean stage actor Geraint Wyn Davies in the lead role. Davies was an extreme hottie, and his crisp diction and emotional performance helped turn Forever Knight into a hit. A few years before leather-clad Angel and Spike would seek redemption on Buffy, Nick Knight served and protected downtown Toronto in a variety of statement jackets.
Upon watching the show, one may wonder, Why would a French vampire move to Toronto? Did he go to Toronto Police College? There are no clear answers. As in most Canadian shows, Canada simply happens, even to vampire cops. Yet one of the best parts of Forever Knight, for me, is the regional pang of watching scenes shot at locations like Factory, one of Toronto’s few classic theater houses. It’s warming to have my own city mirrored back to me, especially because it’s more commonly disguised in movies and TV as New York. With the exception of a few other French vampire characters who have also, for some reason, settled in Ontario, the world of Forever Knight is our own pathetic mortal one, and being a vampire is likened to an addiction. “I am what I am, and I don’t think Betty Ford takes vampires,” Nick tells his cute friend and confidante, pathologist Dr. Natalie Lambert (Catherine Disher), who endeavors to keep Nick from wading too deeply into his vampire side.
As campy as it is, the series is frequently touching, even adventurous, in its Brian De Palma–ish way. Executive-produced by James D. Parriott, who would go on to executive-produce shows like Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy, Forever Knight has that swirl of earnest and tawdry that’s hard to locate in today’s lowbrow, mid-budget entertainment. Although it was shot in Toronto and Uxbridge, Ontario, Forever Knight debuted in America in CBS’s “Crimetime After Primetime” slot before switching to the USA Network, running for three seasons total. The camerawork (led by the memorably named Bert Dunk) luxuriates in hands caressing flesh, accompanied by synth violin or soft-rock tunes that sound familiar but aren’t, because they were written specifically for the show — like “Baby, Baby/CN Tower Finale.”
Davies is a prolific performer who has starred at the Stratford Festival, on Broadway, and in U.K. productions; he’s a delight in my favorite mid-aughts Canadian TV series, Slings & Arrows, as the pompous actor Henry Breedlove. But Forever Knight captures him in his youth, before he played Duncan and Falstaff and Antony — and arguably, Nick is still the role for which he’s best known. Although years of night shoots interfere with his sleep habits to this day, Davies speaks warmly of his time as the vampire cop. “We did an Entertainment Tonight spot in New York with the fans blowing and long coats with collars up. Nobody had a clue who we were because it was before the first season had aired,” the actor remembers when I reach out to him via email. “We tried to infuse the show with a kind of humanity and knowingness and theatricality so that we were all in on the secret.”
These days, we have glossier Canadian exports like Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience, which find success internationally and make Emmy-winning, Marvel-hero stars of their casts. But they don’t have the moody, charming, slightly crummy character of shows like Forever Knight, which lived to fuck around and find out — and were all the better for it. Even the dumbest, most lascivious examples of recent CanCon look a little too high-budget, too smoothly American, to match the shows of my youth. Instead, I’ll return to Forever Knight, a show best consumed just as Nick would have wanted it: during daylight hours in a spectacular loft, curtains drawn, kimono-swathed, drinking animal blood out of wine bottles, and ruminating on past misdeeds.
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