Cast: Ralph Macchio (“The Karate Kid,” “The Outsiders”), William Zabka (“The Karate Kid,” “Back to School”), Xolo Mariduena (“Parenthood,” “Twin Peaks”), Tanner Buchanan (“Designated Survivor,” “Grey’s Anatomy”)
Airs: The series premieres on YouTube Red on Wednesday, May 2
The premise: Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) cross paths more than 30 years after the events of the All-Valley Tournament, and the former rivals are in very different places. Daniel, the owner of a successful chain of car dealerships, lives in Encino with his wife and two children. Meanwhile, Johnny’s life has taken a turn for the worse. Recently fired from his job he’s an absentee dad with no future, until a chance encounter with LaRusso inspires him to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo.
Highs: “Cobra Kai” starts out with a scene from “The Karate Kid.” It’s the final match of the All-Valley Tournament. The crowd is roaring and the music slowly builds to a crescendo as we see LaRusso and Lawrence each earn points until that fateful Crane Kick that earns Daniel the victory. It was riveting in 1984 and still holds up now. This opening serves to connect the new storyline to the old.
In the present both men are living in the past but with different results. Daniel has used his tournament triumph to build a John Elway-esque auto dealership empire. He’s frequently featured on TV ads saying his catchphrase, “We kick the competition.” LaRusso even gives away small bonsai trees to anyone who buys a car. Lawrence, on the other hand, is tortured by his past.
Living in a rundown apartment (which looks exactly like the one Daniel and his mom lived in), Johnny is a handyman. He does menial tasks until a petty quarrel with a homeowner gets him fired and things get worse from there. His beloved Firebird gets hit by teenager who’s texting and driving, his stepfather (played by Ed Asner) disowns him, and he gets mistaken for a homeless person.
Despite being on opposite ends of the spectrum, Daniel and Johnny actually have something in common - they’ve both lost sight of who they are. Though financially successful, Daniel hasn’t been the able to pass on the wisdom of his father figure, Mr. Miyagi, so his kids are a bit of a mess. And although he appears to be a villain, Johnny isn’t a bad person. He’s just an average Joe with a run of bad luck.
“Cobra Kai” has many of the same beats from the original film, but with a twist. There’s a teenage kid getting picked on, and a rich guy who’s antagonistic. Ironically, the series reverses roles with Johnny being a mentor and Daniel being a bit of a bully.
Lows: Turning Johnny from a villain to a sympathetic character and showing some of Daniel’s flaws humanizes both men. However, while watching the first two episodes I was left a bit confused as there isn’t a clear antagonist or protagonist. Based on the films, we know Daniel’s the “good guy” and Johnny’s the “bad guy” but there’s a lot more gray in this series. Making both characters appealing makes sense in an age where good and evil TV characters aren't so clear cut, but viewers should still know who they’re supposed to root for.
A bit more disconcerting is that this series is on YouTube Red, the company’s paid subscription service. Will Generation X, the target demographic for “Cobra Kai,” pay $10 a month for YouTube Red? I'm not sure.
Grade: (B): While watching the first two episodes of “Cobra Kai” all I could think was, “This show was made for me.” If you’re a child of the 80s seeing how things have played out for Johnny and Daniel will be right in your wheelhouse.
Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.