Was anyone asking for a YouTube RED TV-ish sequel to the first three Karate Kid films? Like most other neckbeards in their mid-30s, I was a HUGE Karate Kid fan and I thought this was a bad idea. Even after the first trailer hit, I thought this was a cheap, sad cash-grab.
I've never been so wrong and so happy about being so.
"Cobra Kai" is fantastic. Does it rehash the original film? Yes...kinda. Is it cheesy at times? Of course...kinda. But damned if it doesn't work.
The series picks up 34 years after the original film, where Johnny of the Cobra Kai is a drunk handyman who drives a '91 red Pontiac Firebird (PRETTY sure it's a '91...could be a '92) and listens to the tapes he had in high school. At my core, I GET this guy immediately. My first car was a red '93 Firebird, I used to study martial arts, and I feel like I was at my coolest back in high school (I'm a fat nerd, now, but I'm almost okay with it).
Meanwhile, Johnny's childhood nemesis, Daniel Larusso, is successful. He lives in Johnny's old neighborhood, owns several luxury car dealerships, has a beautiful wife and giant house. Johnny feels like a loser...because he is. And through some movie-only happenstance, they're brought back into each other's lives and water is NOT under their bridge. These guys still don't like each other much.
That's the setup. I'm not going to do a play-by-play of the series, because honestly, I think you should watch it fresh. All I'll say is this...if you think they're going to flip the script and make Daniel the bad guy and Johnny the good guy. You're wrong. If you think the characters haven't changed...you're wrong, too.
The best way I can describe this series is quietly and beautifully complex.
The creators of "Cobra Kai" (the guys behind the Harold & Kumar and Hot Tub Time Machine franchises) obviously have seen the internet videos and nostalgia think-pieces about how Daniel was REALLY the bully of the first film and the crane kick to the face was an illegal move. These things get referenced, but not in a cute-oh-look-at-this-we're-fans-too kind of way, but in a way that makes sense in the story from these characters.
Each character feels like a real person with complex motivations and goals. The kids feel like ACTUAL KIDS and not an old writer trying to sound young.
Every character in "Cobra Kai" is trying to prove something to themselves. Whether it's a kid wanting/needing guidance in a mentor, or an older character seeking redemption, they all have conflicting, intersecting trajectories which takes the story to places that felt a bit familiar at times, and genuinely surprising at others; but it always felt earned. No plot point really feels forced.
My favorite part of the show is Johnny. I love watching Zabka exist as this character on screen, no matter what he's doing. And while I think he does take his training a little too far at times, the old man I've become agrees with his views kids are too coddled, soft, and plugged-in now. Johnny takes things back to the 80s and makes ZERO excuses for it. In his dojo there are no peanut allergies, girls are called 'hot,' people who are different get made fun of (but in a respectful way, if you can imagine it) and the radio plays only Guns N' Roses.
And now for the elephant in the room...Mr. Miyagi.
Respectful use of flashbacks and music cues keep Miyagi's presence felt throughout and once again we feel the balance he just wouldn't shut up about.Pat Morita was always the heart of the series, and with his passing in 2005, it's hard to imagine this show could work without him...but it does. Miyagi's absence from the series serves the story well, showing how Daniel has not forgotten, but no longer actively lives by the words his former sensei taught him. You see in the series Daniel has let his training dojo turn into a catch-all room -- a nice visual metaphor representing Miyagi's once-important, but now shelved tutelage.
I could talk about this show all day, but I would have to do a play-by-play-spoiler-heavy review...and I really don't want to ruin it for anyone. It's just too fun.
So, check it out and maybe I'll do a recap of each episode later.