Revised IP packs a surprising punch.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our first guilty pleasure of 2018. Happy to introduce YouTube’s “Cobra Kai.”
The series completely stands on its own. It is a well thought love letter to the original franchise (and the San Fernando Valley) and there is more than enough story to pay fan service to its surprisingly deep past while blazing a new path forward.
The characters have aged but an underdog is always a universal story worth telling. Thirty-four years after the end of the original Karate Kid, then-antagonist Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) is a supremely average apartment superintendent. LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), has turned his once youthful charm into middle-aged malaise and smarm. Their rivalry gets reignited when Lawrence revives the Cobra Kai karate dojo. The past is hard to escape as LaRusso and Lawrence tear open old scars.
Credit to the trio of Josh Heald, Jon Hurwirtz and Hayden Schlossberg for writing a well-balanced script that works on multiple levels. The underdog story unfolds as high school outcast Miguel Diaz (newcomer Xolo Mariduena) builds his confidence. Lawrence and LaRusso play opposite sides of the same coin as both struggle to deal with the past as Daniel struggles with the loss of his mentor (the iconic Mister Miyagi) and Johnny with the abandonment by his.
The series works surprisingly well as a drama. Zabka adds so many weathered layers to an iconic former villain, while, like the revived “Roseanne,” Lawrence comes from and still lives in a bygone era. Unlike “Roseanne,” he’s easy to like because he learns better as he does better.
The chemistry between Zabka and Mariduena make for an effective and believable duo throughout the season. Macchio also does emotional heavy lifting but with so much more finesse. LaRusso is the easily identifiable antagonist and has no discernable likeability. Yet the audience can’t help but feel sorry for the guy as he’s also trying to reclaim his prior glory. The emotional arc for the main characters were strong enough on their own that additions like Lawrence’s kid veered closer to after-school special than tasty drama. Same could be said for LaRusso’s son, Antonio—maybe the most annoying-for-annoying’s sake character I’ve seen.
A killer ‘80s rock soundtrack, combined with solid storytelling and welcoming new/old faces, make “Cobra Kai” the surprise breakout halfway through 2018.
Heartbreaking interactions between characters mark emotional high points
Segments of well-written, hilarious dialogue
Exploration sequences feel drawn out and boring
No crazy action sequences like in previous episodes
Pacing slows to a crawl