“Cobra Kai Season One” (2018)
Produced by: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald
Featuring: Ralph Macchio and William Zabka
Amanda: “What is going on?”
Anthony: “Dad is about to fight this guy.”
Daniel: “Amanda, just please go inside. This is between me and Sensei Lawrence.”
Amanda: “Yeah, you two seem to have this pretty well in hand. Just a normal Saturday afternoon, a couple of grown men about to kick each other into a pool? You know, as much as I would love to watch you and your childhood karate rival duke it out, I kind of don’t want to get any blood on the patio. So what do you say we try to resolve this over some breakfast instead?”
Daniel: “You want to go inside?”
Johnny: “I could eat.”
There is no way that this spiritual sequel to the ‘Karate Kid’ franchise, “Cobra Kai” (2018) should have worked, it was a new entry into a dead. ultimately futile series (especially after the last two entries) being streamed on YouTubeRed (a new service) with original as well as nearing sixty-year-old leads that have both been defined by their roles in the original “Karate Kid” (1984). But what the creators, producers and writers have done, wisely, is to create a story that seems as natural as the original, taking what was so great about the first one, transplanting it to a new time but in the same location with updated references as well as the use of some cunning flashbacks to the original movie, not hiding the ages of the players as well as being able to see the supporting characters of that original, including Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shueand Martin Kove. There definitely is a reliance on the original movie, the creators have taken for granted that the audience viewing this will have at least a passing familiarity with the movie, in particular the relationship between Danny and Johnny as well the pivotal role that the now deceased Mr. Miyagi played in both of their lives. In many other cases this sort of storytelling may have been a weakness but this is such a beloved movie that it does not hinder the narrative one iota, or the way in which the audience is informed in regard to characters motivations throughout the ten episodes.
“Cobra Kai” takes place 34 years after the original film and follows a “down-and-out Johnny Lawrence, who seeks redemption by reopening the infamous Cobra Kai karate dojo, reigniting his rivalry with a now successful Daniel LaRusso, who has been struggling to maintain balance in his life without the guidance of his mentor, Mr. Miyagi. The show is about two men addressing past demons and present frustrations the only way they know how: through karate.”
Running parallel to the conflict are the story arcs of Lawrence and LaRusso’s students. For instance, there are the students of Cobra Kai: a group of picked-on underdog teenagers who find a camaraderie and self-confidence under Johnny’s tutelage, only to take their mentor’s aggressive philosophy too far as they begin to degenerate into the notorious thuggery of former Sensei Kreese’s era. In contrast, Johnny’s estranged son, Robby Keene, comes under the wing of Daniel, who proves a positive influence to the boy as he begins to seek redemption while learning the philosophies of Mr. Miyagi. Meanwhile, Daniel’s daughter, Samantha, is caught in the middle of these conflicts as she learns who her true friends are and a better path to follow.
Of course when dealing with a reimagining or a sequel of something that was created over thirty years ago the one word that screams louder than any other is nostalgia. In many cases the word nostalgia can mean to evoke feelings from the past, while in and of itself nostalgia is not negative it can be when linking it to movies and television shows. This is because many reboots and sequels are unimaginative, looking for a quick easy way to make audiences happy, taking shortcuts as well as relying on goodwill from the past. However, in the case of “Cobra Kai” what the creators have done is keep the story and action rooted in the present but with a clear foot in the past. This works extremely well as it reminds us what we loved about “The Karate Kid” but takes the characters moving them forward into the modern day, not relying per se on actions in the past as well see new rivalries from as well as some kind of understanding of past actions.
It is vital for this show to exude nostalgia, something I am not a fan of as life by its very nature is all about change, everything and everyone changes so as a society we should always be looking to the next hill, embracing newness as well as embracing the change that will be inevitable for us all. One of the key reasons that nostalgia works in “Cobra Kai” is while we are re-introduced to the characters as well as being forced to confront their old age as well as their new situations the flashbacks are reassuring in that we know these people, as well as their motivations, with their new lives in the present we accept them more readily than meeting them cold. The other reason that this new show works is that it reminds us of a time where life was a little slower as well as more recognisable, as opposed to the world we find ourselves in now with upheaval in almost every walk of life – particularly politically, can it be a coincidence that the original was made under a Reagan Republican government?. It is no surprise that the flashbacks are juxtaposed with scenes from the present, as well as diminishing as the new story takes hold, we start to enjoy not only the older characters new journey but also the new characters that in turn have their own arcs – linked to the previous narrative.
Unlike the original that revolved around the character of Danny this new show mainly takes the point of view of Johnny, his issues, his past and where he is trying to be with the life that he desperately wants, as well as the correcting of the mistakes of his life since the conclusion of “The Karate Kid”. This is one of the strengths of the new show as we see where he came from as a child as well as his non-apologetic character that seems to steam through life despite his attitude or his disdain for so much that would normally be the opposite to the perceived norm. What is interesting is the way in which Johnny’s attitude changes in small ways but enough to make him a sympathetic character, sometimes more so than Danny, which is saying something, especially after the way the original movie ended. As with Johnny we see Danny as a more complicated person than anyone could have imagined, he makes many mistakes with his relationships, more so than he would like but like Johnny he keeps moving ahead no matter what. What is interesting as well is something Johnny does not have, the way in which Danny’s wife makes comments about decisions or situations that he finds himself in, she is an anchor who actually keeps Danny’s worlds stable. Sure Johnny has his star pupil but both of them lack perspective or experience so they seem to continually move through life without any idea of consequences.
Returning to their iconic 1980s characters are stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka as Danny and Johnny respectively who both bring very different traits to their characters. Zabka is the one that is the revelation as a multi leveled character who shines in this second go at Johnny, as the lead he knows when to play the comedy as well as the drama, he also has chemistry with everyone he shares a scene with. What is great is to see him playing comedy to the extent he does, he has some of the best lines in the show as well as all the great scenes. Macchio was of course one of the great young actors of the 1980s but in the 1990s and 2000s became more known for playing himself particularly on television. What is great is to see him not in an ironic way as Danny, not only that but as an adult with issues of his own away from Karate – he really has to make some decisions that impact not only himself but his family – Macchio knows this character so well that it is easy to forget that he is a talented actor.
I loved this show it had everything going for it in terms of drama as well as comedy. It also is not afraid to comment on the current political climate as well as improving on stereotypes that existed in the 1980s when the source material was produced. It also is not afraid to look back while maintaining its narrative firmly in the present, as well as being as original as anything else on television at the moment.
- Ace Degenerate– Thirty four years after losing to Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 All Valley Under-18 Karate Championship, Johnny Lawrence struggles to make a living as a handyman while Daniel runs a successful car dealership chain in the San Fernando Valley.
- Strike First– Miguel begins his karate training with Johnny bullying him for his asthma and low self-esteem. Johnny is informed by the health department that the dojo needs a lot of work before he can officially teach students. Meanwhile, Daniel and his wife get into an argument after discovering that Samantha has invited her friends over to their home for a pool party in their absence. While reconciling with his daughter, Daniel finds out that Samantha is romantically interested in a boy called Kyler and offers to invite him to a family dinner.
- Esqueleto– Johnny tries to recruit more students to the dojo and Daniel decides to chaperone the school Halloween dance. Miguel’s karate training is stepped up as Johnny urges him to use the Cobra Kai creed of “Strike hard. Strike first. No mercy” in his everyday life and urges him to attend the Halloween dance.
- Cobra Kai Never Dies– Robby learns of the new dojo and is embarrassed by his father’s recruitment methods. Meanwhile, a LaRusso Auto billboard is vandalized and evidence leads Daniel to suspect Johnny as the culprit.
- Counterbalance– Miguel shows improvement in both his karate skills and his general health. Daniel tries to make a shady deal that could shut down Cobra Kai, but hurts innocent business owners in the process. Samantha’s heavy-set classmate Aisha Robinson joins Cobra Kai despite Johnny’s initial misgivings about training girls.
- Quiver– Daniel tries unsuccessfully to persuade Samantha to go back to karate. The footage of Miguel’s fight at school goes viral and brings many new students to the Cobra Kai dojo but Johnny cannot suppress his old ways and bullies them, embarrassing Eli in front of the entire class
- All Valley– Johnny uses painful methods to train his new students. Miguel asks Johnny for advice on girls and Johnny manages to give him a boost of confidence which leads to Miguel asking Samantha out on a successful date.
- Molting– Despite Daniel’s strong objections, the All Valley Sports Karate Board decides that Cobra Kai is allowed to compete in the All Valley Karate Tournament, so Johnny ups his game with additional training and unconventional methods steals one of the motorcycles, and rides off to confront Daniel.
- Different but Same– After Johnny’s car is burned by Daniel’s cousin and his thugs, Johnny confronts Daniel at his home. However, before they come to blows, Amanda quickly defuses the looming fight with an invitation to peacefully discuss the matter over breakfast and they reach an agreement: in addition to Louie being fired, Johnny would receive a trade-in car from their business in compensation.
- Mercy– Cobra Kai returns to the annual All Valley Under-18 Karate tournament with a full team led by Miguel. Robby too participates as a fighter unaffiliated with any dojo.