Binge or Purge?: Cobra Kai.
YouTube Red’s new series Cobra Kai gets nostalgia right, returning to a 30 year old franchise with reverence, respect, and ingenuity.
Cobra Kai has two big questions for you. First: are you a giant geek for The Karate Kid movies? Second: is that fandom worth subscribing to YouTube Red, a streaming service with just about nothing else to offer? If you’re not sure, YouTube Red has a free trial, so you can find out how much of the former you are before you commit to the latter.
Just like I did.
Cobra Kai (2018)
The 1984 All-Valley Karate Tournament is where Daniel LaRusso became a legend. It’s also where Johnny Lawrence began his slow, painful descent into obscurity. A wreck of a person, Johnny does odd jobs for enough money to put gas in his car and booze in his belly. When an encounter with some local bullies results in Johnny rescuing a wannabe student, he decides to resurrect the Cobra Kai dojo.
This doesn’t go over very well with Daniel-san.
Episode 1: “Ace Degenerate”
Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) is a shell of a man, living a pitiful existence haunted by the ghost of glories past. It doesn’t help that his particular ghost has a thriving car company with tons of billboards and commercials with which to haunt him. After inadvertently saving new kid Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) from the local bullies, Johnny decides to exorcise his demons by re-opening the infamous Cobra Kai dojo.
The first episode of Cobra Kai is told entirely from Johnny’s perspective. We see a man who just can’t let the past go, stewing in anger and resentment. It’s a testament to the writers (who are all on record as being massive Karate Kid geeks) that we are allowed to see this disgraced former bully decked out in all his petty-grievances. A less faithful sequel might have been compelled to make Johnny sympathetic, but Cobra Kai stays true to the legacy of Johnny being an entitled jerk.
The real trick will be showing how Johnny grows and whether he gains self-awareness. There doesn’t seem to be any Mr. Miyagis in Johnny’s life.
Episode 2: “Strike First”
Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) has gone from underdog to King of the Valley. He’s financially successful, has a beautiful wife and kids, and is a local celebrity for having won the All-Valley Tournament not once, but twice.
Still, life isn’t perfect. His daughter (Mary Mouser) has fallen in with the popular kids, who just so happen to be Miguel’s tormentors. His son is completely disinterested in bonding with him. And his childhood rival has just re-opened the dojo that bulled him throughout his high school days. When Daniel finds out that Johnny roughed up his daughter’s friends, he goes to the Cobra Kai dojo to confront his former enemy.
The first episode follows Johnny around; this one is all Daniel. Once again, the writers really get the character. Daniel wasn’t just some plucky underdog: he has emotional baggage, is an extremely extroverted personality, and can be a bit of jerk sometimes. But he’s also a good person at heart, the same earnest kid that once inspired an old man to teach him what Karate was all about.
Everything about Cobra Kai revolves around the classic Karate Kid movies. Same characters, same actors, same themes (just in reverse this time). Your enjoyment of this series is going to depend largely on how much you liked the original movies. Cobra Kai is a slow burn, and the action is lacking in these initial episodes. As such, it’s the characters that are going to either hook you or set you free.
I loved the first Karate Kid (the others, not so much), so I enjoyed this reunion very much. The actors all return to their characters like they never left. The world feels like the old valley, but with enough updates to make the themes relevant to new viewers. I can’t wait to see where they go with this series, to see how these iconic characters grow and change, and I look forward to seeing what the new generation can do.
So if you couldn’t guess, I give Cobra Kai a binge recommendation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have the strangest urge to wax my car right now.