In 1984 The Karate Kid became a part of the pop culture landscape. Everything from “wax on wax off” to “sweep the leg!” has been paid tribute to, satirized, and cherished by kids of the 80’s these past thirty years in the forms of memes, tv shows, movie formulas, and general casual conversation. It’s a very “American” film, embedded in our winner/loser/fairplay/try-your-best contradicting ethos.
Now comes a worthy sequel after four films continued the story of Daniel LaRusso. The first film earned Pat Morita an Oscar nomination as the wise Mr. Myagi, the second earned one for best song, the third film was rowdy popcorn film, in the vein of Rocky III, and The Next Karate Kid started 2 time Oscar winner Hillary Swank in easily the worst film of her career. Will Smith created a crowd pleaser reboot for his son Jaden to star in with Jackie Chan that grossed $300+ million and yet is unremarkable in every way.
This sequel is a YouTube Red Series Cobra Kai, a continuation of the Daniel/Johnny died from the first film. Johnny Lawrence is now a washed up alcoholic, still driving his high school car and pounding Coors beer, living off a freelance handyman gig from a friend. Daniel is now a successful car salesman kicking pricing and passing out free bonsai trees to each customer.
One night, while having a pity party, Johnny sees some bullies beating up his poor apartment neighbor Miguel. He’s fine with them picking on him until they throw Miguel into his red sports car, prompting the once cool Cobra Kai star to beat up all four kids, and then inspiring Miguel to ask Johnny to teach him karate.
While this may sound odd, a fifty year old man beating up high school kids and then mentoring the geeky new neighbor, it mirrors exactly Mr. Myagi and Daniel-Son’s relationship. The scene in Cobra Kai is the Halloween dance scene in every way. It’s one of the best pieces of modern deconstruction put to pop art.
If we rooted for Myagi, how can we fault Johnny?
After taking some money from his bitter step dad as a buy out of their relationship, Johnny takes on Miguel and decides to reopen the Cobra Kai Karate studio that was the birthplace of every 80’s teen comedy villain. With John Kreese dead, Johnny doesn’t have to worry about licensing deals and copyright laws.
The next 9 episodes see Johnny struggle as a mentor, a dead beat dead (with baby mama Diora Baird in a fun cameo), and frustrated small business owner. Eventually, the dojo builds a crowd after a few fresh storylines utilize our modern social media culture, and a crew of misfit toys appear.
The other story deals with Daniel’s nightmare of watching Cobra Kai become a safe place for all the misfits of the San Fernando Valley. Daniel starts becoming the high strung LaRusso of The Karate Kid III and even starts retraining to bring balance to his life.
The series is both a satire of the snowflake generation and great reminder of what makes a sports opera work. The series never panders, but instead embraces the classical archetypes. One minute we are rooting for Johnny. The next we see Daniel applying Myagai’s old school techniques.
Everything feels fresh and inspired in this series. Johnny is seeking redemption, while Daniel is trying to maintain his way of life. The female leads, including Daniel’s wife and daughter provide strong female characters and interesting arcs, and the “mean girls” of the high school even find themselves changing.
What the series reminds us is that the generations before us lived by different codes, and that while some people never grew up, we don’t always see that. Sure Johnny is a sad sack clinging to high school glory, but so is Daniel, still thinking his All Valley Championship is impressive.
The other intersting point the series makes is that in the 80’s Karate was for bullies to maintain their status, whereas today geeks need it to level up to the cyber bullying the pretty kids use to torment. If anything, when Johnny mocks cyber bullying by telling his dojo of nerds “in my day we made fun of them to their face,” he isn’t being ironic, he’s being oddly heroic.
Cobra Kai isn’t just entertaining television, it’s poignant television about a time and place that doesn’t really exist anymore, but don’t tell our protagonists.
PS: The final scene is as chilling and exciting and out of nowhere as anything I’ve ever seen. If Johnny thought he’s faced his past, he’s got another thing coming.
Paul Douglas Moomjean Blog's About What's on His Mind
Blogging allows for me to rant when there is no stage in the moment to talk about what's important and/or funny to me.