Now, normally I try to avoid reviewing TV series. However, since I have reviewed the entire Karate Kid legacy, I felt it was necessary to give my thoughts on the new YouTube Red series that I can say, lives up to the legacy and does exactly what it has intended.
It has been nearly 34 years since Johnny Lawrence lost the All Valley Sports Karate Tournament to newcomer Daniel LaRusso and his Crane Kick technique. A lot has truly changed since that fateful incident. Johnny has become a recluse, working odd jobs and finding himself constantly in a bind. When he sees new neighbor Miguel Diaz getting beaten up by a group of high school bullied led by Kyler, Johnny takes it upon himself to defend himself when Kyler and boys decide to threaten him.
Meanwhile, Daniel LaRusso has become a successful car dealer, living in Encino with his wife Amanda and daughter Samantha, who has joined a group of popular high schoolers led by Yasmine, who go around talking trash and bullying the likes of others.
Johnny, having enough of everything gone wrong, is given a chance at redemption. He takes the bullied Miguel in as a student and it becomes the inspiration for Johnny to re-open the Cobra Kai dojo. When Daniel learns that the school has reopened, he is convinced Johnny will not change and does everything in his power to make sure Cobra Kai fails on all levels. A sudden twist of fate lands both former rivals once again at the All-Valley Karate Tournament when Cobra Kai is reinstated and Daniel finds himself a student he never imagined he would take under his wing.
Created by the Harold and Kumar team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, along with Josh Heald, this sequel to the original 1984 film and both its 1986 and 1989 sequels retcons to a sense The Next Karate Kid and brings a sense of role reversal as Johnny is the down and out veteran who is bullied and Daniel is now the aggressor. However, both Johnny and Daniel are no different from each other these days as Daniel lacks focus due to losing his mentor Mr. Miyagi. One of the episodes is dedicated to the memory of Pat Morita, who immortalized the role of the Okinawan karate master.
It is great to see William Zabka and Ralph Macchio reprise their roles in a whole new light. Seeing Johnny as a down-and-out recluse trying to make ends meet and in one episode, seeing his backstory in flashback, shows why Johnny was the way he was in the original Karate Kid. It turns out Johnny wasn’t always “privileged” and had always wanted that one thing only to find himself never really having someone to be close to, with perhaps Elisabeth Shue’s Ali being that last line of defense until we all know what happened in the original film.
As for Ralph Macchio as Daniel, sure he is successful and uses his karate as his gimmick. However, he has lacked the focus due to losing Mr. Miyagi and his assumptions led him to become the aggressor. He goes from attempting to having the strip mall owner raise the rent to attempting to keep the ban from the karate tournament set. However, in the penultimate episode, it seems like both Johnny and Daniel are finally on good terms and showing respect for each other until a shocking turn of event happens.
The series also shows a series of transitions that made Johnny who he was and how he is affected by that change. Xolo Mariduena and Tanner Buchanan are great in their roles of bullied newcomer Miguel Diaz and estranged Robby Keene respectively. Miguel goes from being bullied to being a hotshot karate fighter who stands up to his bullies while Robby goes from juvenile delinquent to an honorable karate fighter who just happens to be (Tada!) Johnny’s son. Another major change goes to Jacob Bertrand’s transformation from the bullied Eli to the more confidant Hawk and while he becomes as aggressive as Miguel, being both Cobra Kai exponents, it is Hawk who becomes the more aggressive when needed.
Those who love nostagia from both the original film and the 80’s a whole will get their kicks out of this. There are many references to the 80s and the original film, from Johnny annoyed at Miguel’s ringtone and demanding he finds Guns N’ Roses to Daniel visiting his old apartment complex and Johnny reminiscing about Ali. There are even some cameos from stars of the original film, two in particular.
The series was recently renewed for season 2, set for 2019, and it is well deserved. If you loved the original Karate Kid, then Cobra Kai is on your must-see list and it must be seen as soon as possible.
WFG RATING: A+
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment present a Hurwitz and Schlossberg Production in association with Overbrook Entertainment. Directors: Various. Producers: Various. Writers: Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg; based on the characters created by Robert Mark Kamen.
Cast: Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Xolo Mariduena, Tanner Buchanan, Courtney Henggeler, Mary Mouser.