Sometimes it feels like we’re drowning in sequels, prequels, and reboots. It’s easy to see why; comfortable and familiar is less risky than new and unknown. But the urge to revisit a successful film or TV show from the past needn’t always be resisted. Sometimes, great things can happen, as in the case of Cobra Kai.
You’ve probably seen advertisements for the new 10-part series on YouTube, and it is surely the highest-profile original content for its YouTube Red service. Cobra Kai is a sequel to The Karate Kid that checks back in on Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence 34 years after their their first showdown at the All-Valley karate tournament. And yes, Ralph Macchio and William Zabka are back in their roles.
The story opens from Lawrence’s point of view, and the past three-and-a-bit decades have not been kind to him. He’s living in a cheap apartment in Reseda, not dissimilar from the one LaRusso moved to from New Jersey in the original movie. Johnny’s a struggling handyman, still driving the same (not-quite so sweet) ’84 Pontiac Firebird. Adding insult to injury, he can’t escape his rival’s success; LaRusso owns a chain of upmarket car dealerships, literally looking down on him in traffic from a massive billboard.
Cobra Kai borrows more than just the characters and locations from The Karate Kid, taking the original plot and weaving elements through the season’s arc. A nerdy kid (Miguel Diaz, played by Xolo Maridueña) learns karate to defend himself from a gang of bullies, but it’s Johnny who trains him in a now-reopened Cobra Kai dojo. “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” becomes an empowering philosophy for Diaz and his marginalized friends, the ultimate safe space one where anyone picking you on gets their ass beat.
I don’t want to give away too much, because if you had any love at all for the 1984 classic—and it was a classic—you’re bound to enjoy Cobra Kai. Between Johnny’s tale of redemption and a clever retelling of the original story, the show takes itself just seriously enough that it’s frequently funny. It’s not as on-the-nose as the 21 Jump Street movie; going that far would have made it impossible to keep the drama that that made The Karate Kid such a good film. And the best news of all? YouTube just greenlit a second season.
Listing image by Overbrook Entertainment/YouTube
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