Let me be the first one to admit, I totally passed on Cobra Kai when it was released on YouTube Red back in 2018, and this is coming from someone who wore out his copy of the VHS as a kid. I was born in 1983, so I was incredibly young when the original movie came out. By the time I was 5-6yrs old I was entrenched in the idea of Karate. I lost count of how many times I watched it, trying to mimic Daniel's moves. It was only a few years later that my step-father encouraged me to take Tang Soo Do at my local community center. I was teased a lot growing up and wanted to defend myself. So I signed up, and before I even got my gi...I quit because I was fat and the sensei made us do knuckle push-ups. I couldn't do REGULAR pushups let alone ones on my chubby knuckles. Screw that! Even with as much as I adored the original Karate Kid, I completely and totally forgot about this upon on its original release, simply because I refused to pay for YouTube Red(now YouTube Premium) due to lack of interest. Netflix has since purchased the series itself, not just the rights to air it. That's big.
Well, here I am eating my words in late 2020 as I close in on finishing Season 1 as a dedicated Netflix subscriber, completely and totally enamored by this show. Someone on my Facebook feed said it was "like they combined Eastbound & Down with Karate Kid" and that is absolutely perfect. For once it would seem like most of the internet would agree. After posting about it on my personal Facebook and a slew of comments coming in I've seen a lot of my circles asking for late passes as well. Everyone is enthralled by the call-backs and charm of this "martial arts dry comedy", if you can even call it that.
As of writing this, Cobra Kai has a 94% and 96% respective rating on Rotten Tomatoes
Many nostalgia cash grabs are done in poor taste with aging stars barely able to keep up with the expectations of their character's energy and pizazz, but this isn't this. The flashbacks and callbacks are perfectly-timed, with just enough reference to the original without shoving it down your throat. I am being completely and totally honest as the founder of this website and a pop culture fanatic, that this show absolutely RIPS and I am so upset at myself for sleeping on it.
The show picks up decades after the fabled events of the Under 18 All Valley Karate Championship to find Johnny Lawrence(William Zabka), a down-on-his-luck(asshole drunk) handyman and Daniel Larusso(Ralph Macchio) as a successful, regional car dealership owner(borderling douchebag).
“WE KICK THE COMPETITION
They’re both in their late-40-somethings(maybe 50s?) in The Valley and their paths cross yet again with no explanation, or insight as to whether they already had at some point since 1984. The show just pops off from there. You get worried about their age and ability until you hear Johnny yell "QUIET!" in that barking, powerful voice of his. Danny has still got his Newark attitude, with a refined Southern California businessman mentality.
One thing leads to another, and Johnny eventually resurrects the defunct Cobra Kai dojo in a strip mall, with varied success as it struggles to gain popularity.
Both of them have teenage children at this point and without spoiling anything, paths begin to cross.
Both action and hilarity ensue by way of generational and cultural gaps, so it works for those of us who have been following it since the 80's and the younger ones who might see the OG characters as out-of-touch geezers.
Almost every joke hits right on the nose like a well-timed illegal kick(ah-thankyew) and even though I've barely finished the first season, I'm all-in and everyone on my feeds tells me season 2 is even better.
Forget everything you knew about the later Karate Kid sequels and take this as a direct continuation of the original like many franchises are trying to do these days. Most have failed their desperate revivals and reboots - except for Cobra Kai.
Paul Brown is the founder of Kulture Popped and avid pop culture collector/historian.