I just returned from savoring the glistening glow of California. As someone who had never ventured to the West Coast, I fell instantly in love with the Sunshine State’s picturesque weather, vibrant food and scenic locals.

Like any great trip, it came and went in a flash. Still, I have endless memories to reflect upon.

Here is a taste of my California escapades (cue “The OC” theme song.)

Lucky Boy’s World Famous Burrito

Lucky Boy’s in Pasadena serves a robust menu of American classics, yet most patrons gaze upon one item — a world-famous breakfast burrito. It even has a sign spotlighting the burrito among Lucky Boy’s marquee.

The breakfast burrito features a familiar ingredient blend: scrambled eggs, sharp cheddar cheese, hash browns and a choice of protein. In the hands of Lucky Boy’s accomplished chefs, these ingredients blend into a heavenly comfort food experience.

Every component blends beautifully. The eggs are fluffy as a cloud, providing that delectable starchy texture that glues all the ingredients together. The cheese melts from end to end. The bacon adds guilty pleasure goodness with every bite, and the hash browns inject a much-needed crisp to enhance the textural profile. Wrapped within a flawlessly folded soft shell, the burrito becomes even more satisfying with every bite I took.

It is worth mentioning that Lucky Boy’s burritos are a towering sight; I would say they are about the size of my face. It may just be the perfect hangover meal; just do not expect to finish it all in one sitting.

Howlin’ Rays Spicy Hot Chicken

I did not know much about Howlin’ Rays, although I did receive several recommendations before embarking on my trip to California. All people had to say was “spicy fried chicken,” and I was sold.

Howlin’ Rays conjures its cuisine based on the spice profile of Nashville cuisine. Owner Johnny Ray Zone also imbues his prolific chef influences into his cuisine, previously working under lionized chefs like Gordon Ramsay.
After savoring my first bite, I instantly understood the hype. The seasoning resonates vividly, encrusting every inch of the crispy fried exterior and packing a fiery hot punch to the taste buds. The flavor profile is rich in its indulgence; even eating one piece of chicken may leave patrons in a punch-drunk chicken daze.

That is where leftovers come in! Most chicken dishes don’t hold up the best from a second pass. The Howlin’ Rays chicken somehow maintained the same powerful essence. I seriously can only think of a few meals I have had that left such an impactful mark. I can still taste the devilishly delicious chicken days after my meal.

New to Paramount+: “Knuckles”

Selecting a movie or show to watch is often challenging for me; my girlfriend jokes I could spend hours just scrolling endlessly on streaming services. Then, there is choosing what to watch during a flight, which introduces a whole new altitude of factors to consider.

I’ve developed a way to equate what makes for enjoyable plane viewing. You don’t want to pick cinematic classics like “The Godfather” or “Predators;” those movies deserve your full attention and should be viewed as sacred experiences. At the same time, you have to feel confident with what you are selecting. If you find yourself stuck on an eight-hour flight with some middling Netflix show downloaded on your device, the wait will be even more interminable. The key is to pick a movie or show that is amusing yet disposable enough not to require maximum focus.

Thankfully for me, Paramount+’s new “Knuckles” miniseries event walks that tightrope to a tee. What I would label more aptly as “Sonic the Hedgehog 2.5,” this spin-off of the beloved Sega video game star races ahead in sporadic fashion, but it thankfully earns enough golden rings to cross the finish line in a satisfying fashion.

Video game adaptions are enjoying a true creative renaissance. They were once viewed as malignant Hollywood cash grabs. Now, well-tuned creative teams are transforming beloved gaming brands, like “The Last of Us” and “Werewolves Within” into equally revered cinematic creations.

“Knuckles” is no mascot for this artistic revolution. The six-episode run comes across as a movie that awkwardly bloats to its extended miniseries run time. Some episodes are as short as 20 minutes, almost begging viewers to witness “Knuckles” in a binge-watch format (for context, the show’s length is shorter than Martin Scorsese’s last film, “Killers of the Flower Moon.”) The creation of these awkward streaming-movie hybrids is simply a byproduct of streaming services wanting to soak up more screen time (“Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” fell into the same trap). The end result is a show that endures a herky-jerky pace.

The excess is most prominent in the hackneyed subplots, particularly our protagonist Wade Whipple’s maudlin wallowing through the “father issues” cliche. I don’t understand why many family films continuously recycle the same handful of plot lines. “Knuckles” is also noticeably cheaper than its big-screen counterparts. I know this is designed for streaming, but the shoddy effects should not be an excuse for a flagship program for Paramount’s flatlining streaming service.

For all its spikes, “Knuckles” still flexes a winning spirit. I continue to be impressed by the charm and exuberance featured in the “Sonic” cinematic universe. Director Jeff Fowler and company continue to deliver fittingly frenetic films that race from wacky pratfall to stylized action set pieces. It can be dizzying, yet the whirlwind energy often compensates for the constant inconsistencies.

The jokes here are frequently amusing, mixing sharp pop culture references and slapstick bits into a satisfying comedic concoction. How can one hate a show that goes from referencing ESPN 8 the Ocho from “Dodgeball” one minute to breaking out into grandiose music numbers the next? There is a manic, wild-child energy to the material that is infectiously endearing to get lost in.

Much of the credit goes to “Knuckles’” cast, featuring Adam Pally as the man-child Wade and Idris Elba as the titular echidna. What were both amusing side characters slide seamlessly enough into the feature film roles. Pally, a long-standing indie darling, is a charming buffoon with a heart of gold, while Elba’s commanding presence and deft comedic timing morph Knuckles into more than the meathead muscle he’s often showcased as. Even the supporting players, including a deliciously campy Cary Elwes as a narcissistic bowler and the smooth comedic touch from Scott Mescudi, seize their chance to capture the spotlight throughout.

“Knuckles” does not achieve high scores, although I would argue that was never its intention. This breezy Saturday morning live-action cartoon will please families and plane-goers like myself alike.

Matt Conway
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