YouTube Red’s new series, Cobra Kai has no business being this good. At all. Especially from a long dormant franchise like The Karate Kid, I mean we all know how the fourth one turned out (sorry Hillary Swank). Those films while classics of their genre, aren’t regarded as high class cinema. With the recent glaut of revival shows, and films in their own right, Cobra Kai does something crucial that many of these other properties seem to forget.
It treats it’s mythology with respect.
It’s been over 30 years since Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) suffered his humiliating defeat by Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). He’s down on his luck, constantly reminded of his defeat by seeing billboards everywhere for LaRusso Motars. One fateful night, he says a young kid named Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) get picked on by bullies, and Johnny rescues him, inspiring him to revive the long gone Cobra Kai dojo.
What unfolds over the course of ten episodes is nothing short of a miracle; turning the Karate Kid films into something of a Greek tragedy. I’ll tell you, I was expecting something of a parody, like the 21 Jump Street movies, but I was so wrong. This series is not only unashamed of its source material, but embraces it lovingly. The “flashback” scenes are clips from the first film, and are so skillfully woven into the narrative that it hits the emotions perfectly if you’ve seen them. That is how this is supposed to be done.
The acting here, is just nothing short of top notch. Macchio and Zabka add actual fucking depth and layers to their characters. While the movies may have a basic view of good and bad, here it’s not that simple. Johnny has a lot of anger that stems from his childhood, while Daniel has let arrogance muddy up his balance. Both men are on a journey to better themselves, even if its actually making them into bitter men.
The nostalgia factors in heavily into Cobra Kai, and no shit it would. You even see Daniel performing his moves from The Karate Kid Part III. I mean, who the fuck would remember that? It gives it’s audience exactly what it wants, but not in the ways that they’d expect it. Yes, the season climaxes with a tournament, but holy fuck is it done differently, with conflicting emotions. Yeah, it was difficult to find a villain here, it’s that good. This is all because of the memories of the films; they compliment each other, they find that perfect balance.
It’s amazing how much love and respect when into this series. Truly. This is not a jokey self aware parody of itself, but merely the tragically logical continuation of its story. If you’re even remotely a fan, you owe it to yourself to see this series, and show it to others. Not since a show like Mr. Robot have I been so invested in the emotional (low) stakes that drives Daniel and Johnny.
I never thought I’d ever write this, but Cobra Kai is one of the best shows on television.