I guess everyone eventually reaches an age where they start looking back through their life, wondering how exactly they became the person that they see in the mirror, and thinking about which decisions led them to where they are — whether that place is good or bad, whether it’s where you want to be or not. I don’t think we really learn from our mistakes unless we’re willing to re-visit them from time to time, not to dwell on our failures, but to pick them apart, and to sift out the small nuggets of gold inside the clumps of dirt and mud. The hard part, I think for many of us, is that in order to have any success at this kind of mental, emotional, and spiritual excavation, time has to pass us by — sometimes a great deal of time — before we can see the lessons that had value inside all the crap that didn’t. For Daniel Larusso and Johnny Lawrence, it’s taken 34 years for this kind of self examination to happen… and by extension, 34 years for us to see it happen to them.
During my childhood, there were precisely three occasions in which the entire tribe of Coffmanites made a collective pilgrimage to the movie theater. On three occasions, and only three occasions, did the right circumstances, schedules, and planets align in order for these seminal events to occur. And in July of 1984, one of these three sacred adventures found us all in Greenwood, on the south side of Indianapolis, packed into a crowded theater as we beheld, for the first time, The Karate Kid. If you’ve never seen this movie, then I must say now, without hesitation: shame upon you. I’m just kidding, and I know it’s just a movie, but there really isn’t any other film that has resonated with me on such a personal level as this one. Maybe seeing it for the first time at such a young age has had something to do with this, but I think it goes beyond that. I’ve re-watched it many times over the years, and each time there are things that resonate with me in new ways, and that deepen my connection to the story. So, when I first heard that they were making it into an actual show all these years later — needless to say — I was very interested.
Cobra Kai takes place in today’s world, but it revolves around two of the characters that made the original story so memorable — Johnny Lawrence and Daniel Larusso. In the original movie they were high school teenagers going to fisticuffs over a girl they both liked, and finding surrogate father figures in their martial arts masters; Johnny with an evil sensei, and Daniel with a good one. In this current series, which premiered on YouTube’s subscription service last week, Daniel and Johnny are now in their 50s, both with kids of their own, but still living in the San Fernando Valley. Daniel is the owner of an extremely successful upscale auto dealership, complete with a beautiful family and huge mansion in the hills — it’s obvious from what we see, and what we know of his character, that he has worked hard throughout his life, putting the discipline and moral grounding he received as a teenager to work in building the kind of life he wanted. Johnny, on the other hand, is alone, estranged from his kid, struggling with an alcohol addiction, and unable to hold down a job. The lessons that Johnny’s sensei taught him as a teenager — “Strike first, strike hard, and no mercy,” didn’t really work out for him in real life, though he still clings to them as the mantra that embodies his most sacred belief system. The show is very clear about where these two characters have ended up, how they got there, what it means for their families, and how all these things bleed into the new generation of students under their teaching. It’s very real in this regard. It all feels completely authentic, and nothing really feels contrived or forced (aside from one very tiny story element which I won’t spoil for you if you haven’t seen it). Regardless, it still has a way of paying homage to what has come before – in all three of the original movies. The show is divided into 10 parts, each one being 30 minutes long, which is the perfect amount of time to tell us a new story while crafting and carefully injecting small doses of nostalgia throughout the 5 hours. For anyone who has enjoyed the movies that have come before, I will say, that there is a sequence in the middle of the story that pays tear-shedding tribute to Daniel’s sensei Mr. Miyagi, portrayed by the late great Pat Morita. Moreover, they use the same Bill Conti score from the original movie with emotionally charged, surgical precision – and it totally devastated me when it began playing.
As with any good story, whether it comes in the form of book, show, or film — the strength is in the characters, how they are written, and if enough care has gone into them to make us care about them. Cobra Kai deserves an A+ for this. They’ve taken everything that was great about the original characters, and treated them with sacred honor while adding more depth to them. Even more, they have introduced us to new characters that make sense in regards to the world they live in, how the culture and society of 2018 is different from that of 1984, and which lessons provide a timeless bridge between these two generations. As Miyagi would say, it “must have balance.”
But I’ve now said enough. If you want to watch Cobra Kai for yourself, the first two episodes are completely free – I will post the links below. If the story grabs you, and you want to continue with the rest of the episodes, you’ll have to sign up with YouTube Red, which is YouTube’s (and their Google overlords’) attempt to wade into the streaming market that is dominated by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO. However! Fear not, because the first month of YouTube Red is completely free, and as long as you cancel your membership within 30 days, you will never be charged one cent. I signed up with them, watched Cobra Kai, and then immediately canceled my membership, all within a week. So, if you’re a cheap Sam Batch like me, you can still watch Cobra Kai.
Cobra Kai Episode One:
Cobra Kai Episode Two: