There’s nothing like the 1984 version of The Karate Kid. Despite its paint-by-numbers script, it was an accurate portrayal of life as an underdog, bullying and power of a good wax on/wax off. Thirty-four years later, when its sequel was announced (we don’t acknowledge the others), it was easy to dismiss it as a desperate attempt to pimp out a classic for a payback. After all, how does Ralph Macchio afford to stay so young?
While it has been thirty-four years since the Crane Kick that shook the karate world debuted, it would be easy to assume everyone has moved on to find success with their new lives. This isn’t exactly the case as Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) is now a washed up loser who is constantly reminded how much of a failure he is by his father (Ed Asner). Freshly fired from his job and spending time as a miserable drunk, Lawrence can’t escape the hatred he still feels for LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) who is living it up as a small-time celebrity car dealer. However both are haunted by a constant series of flashbacks, they allow the feelings of their last fight dictate the path of their futures. Lawrence’s life is in a state of defeat while LaRusso keeps winning at life.
This all changes one fateful night when Lawrence opens up a Cobra Kai dojo in to help his teenage neighbor Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) defeat a gang of high school bullies (sound familiar?). This simple act has a rippling effect not only for the town of Reseda but reunites Lawrence and LaRusso through a series of intertwined chaos filled with high school drama, love affairs, and a championship match.
While not original, Cobra Kai starts off as undeniably fun. Flipping the script on these characters, its sweet revenge as Lawrence attempts to fight bullies and teach others how to thwart psychological takedowns. Even though Lawrence is now the underdog, his personality remains unchanged. Rude, arrogant and unapologetic, nothing will stand between his comeback story. He is the Bizarro World’s version of Mr. Miyagi; using abuse and his depression as a weapon.
LaRusso who starts off as a helpful friendly counterpart to Lawrence soon unravels as his buried emotions for Lawrence shines through. They soon mentally breakdown into the teenagers they once were. It feels like old times watching Macchio’s and Zabka’s chemistry fly off the screen.
Even with the brilliant moments of Cobra Kai, it is not perfect and suffers greatly from being rushed. Each 30-minute episode introduces new characters without them being fully fleshed out (LaRusso’s daughter is a karate expert but is sidelined as a love interest). Relying too heavily on footage from the original movie, the series fails to carve out its own path. Becoming more predictable with each scene, showrunners/creators John Heald, Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz fail to create a show that’s genuine.
While Cobra Kai isn’t impactful enough, it is easily one of YouTube Red’s most successful projects (remember the Step up series? Good, no one should) and hopefully if there’s a season two there’ll be enough confidence to create a show that stands on its own instead of being a knockoff.