When I first saw the trailer for the YouTube Originals series “Cobra Kai,” I thought “Are you frakking kidding me!” But I was so wrong.
Your first question may be, “Why is a website about a personal memoir” doing a TV show review. Because as you’ll soon (or one day) find out, TV plays a big role in my life, and Karate Kid particularly plays a role in my book. Besides, one of the services I hope to provide to my 24 readers is commentary on everything from politics to padawans, and faith to filmmaking.
So, ahem, let me continue.
Your second question may be: why in the world would they create a sequel to a movie (“The Karate Kid”) which only barely holds up after nearly three decades? I was also intrigued that Will Smith was an exec producer. “If Big Willie is involved as a producer, it just might have something going for it.”
Well guess what. It’s actually pretty darn good. No. I would go so far as to say it’s pretty DAMN good. (That’s right. It’s worthy of a full-blown expletive! I’m not quite ready to give it a “F*cking Awesome!” review, but I do feel alright throwing it a “Pretty Freaking Cool” descriptor.)
I’m not a movie critic, so I ain’t got time to be doing any kind of deep and insightful analysis. But in short, the series explores the lives of Danny Larusso (played again by Ralph Macchio, who also co-exec produces) and his arch Nemesis Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka who also co-exec produces) and their new tumultuous relationship as adults.
Daniel-san is a millionaire luxury car dealer balling big time with a hot wife, a smart (if not naive teen daughter), and a spoiled 10 year-old son who I want to freaking Swan-kick every time I see him on screen.
Johnny, on the other hand, is a washed up loser, drinker, broke AF, and a terrible absentee father. He’s trying to put his life back together, but he’s haunted by the success of the former geek he used to beat up.
Where I think this story really grabs me is in Zabka’s performance. His character in the original 1984 film was utterly cliché with as much nuance as a Trump Supporting evangelical dressing up as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus toting his 2nd Amendment approved AK47 (this is the only site where you will get a TV and movie reviews that will find every way possible to take jabs at Trump supporters. It is what will set me apart from the actual, legit reviewers.)
Zabka as the adult Johnny is actually pretty nuanced. He ends up saving a geek from getting his ass whipped, then takes said geek, Miguel Diaz (played by newcomer Xolo Maridueña) under his wing to learn karate.
There are times when Johnny is as much an a-hole as when he was in high school. But there are just as many times when you can see he actually cares about people (even if he wouldn’t want to admit it). He pretty much becomes a father figure to Miguel.
I think my favorite parts of the show involve Johnny’s unconventional teaching methods. He re-opens the old Cobra Kai dojo where he learned karate (thus the show’s name), and adopts some of the same over the top, bully-like teaching philosophies of his old Sensei. He ends up getting a dojo full of all the freaks and geeks from the local high school who are tired of being bullied. Lawrence publicly humiliates them and hits them in an effort to toughen them up. He’s just shy of the sadistic character J.K. Simmons played in “Whiplash”.
But here’s the thing, he doesn’t do it in a “mustache twirling” sort of way his old sensei was. There’ something in Zabka’s eyes where you feel that he genuinely wants to help these kids no longer get their ass kicked. And you find out why around the middle of the season. It just adds more layers to the Lawrence character.
Speaking of Xolo’s geek character, he’s really only a geek in that he’s written that way. You can totally tell he’s really a teen heart throb. His geeky friends however, actually look like real geeks. But, you know they had to do it this way so that Miguel could hook up with the cute girl (Larusso’s daughter Samantha, played by Disney Channel alum Mary Mouser). Heaven forbid if she were to hook up with the friend with the deformed lip, the fat dude, or the leader of the geeks who is looks the part.
I have to admit that I’m only six episodes into the ten episodes of season 1. But I’m genuinely enjoying it. The writing and dialog aren’t half bad, there are some laugh out loud moments, and the nuanced character arcs of both Larusso and Lawrence are engaging. I’m hoping it sticks the landing and keeps it up. Considering season 2 is already up and season 3 was announced, I’m taking that as a good sign.
Have you seen the show. Let me know what you think of it. What other shows did you think would suck when you first heard about them, but were pleasantly surprised by once you saw it.
Also published on Medium.