You would be hard-pressed to find someone who loves the 1984 classic “The Karate Kid” more than me. You would also be hard-pressed to find someone who hates its sequels and the 2010 remake more than me. So, naturally, I was skeptical when YouTube Red announced it would produce a sequel series to the original movie with Ralph Macchio and William Zabka returning to their iconic roles as Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence, respectively. I officially bought into the hype when the first full trailer was released on March 21. Despite the hype, “Cobra Kai” still blew me away.
The story revolves around the rivalry between LaRusso and Lawrence, which has been resurrected 34 years later. I was not surprised by how much I enjoyed their dynamic. The original movie was my favorite hero-villain conflict ever, and I was geeked to see it again all these years later. Zabka's performance in particular steals the show. As iconic as his character is, Zabka is not nearly the household name Macchio is, yet he delivers a performance that is funny, heartbreaking, nuanced and very real at times. It makes sense for Macchio to receive top billing, but this is Johnny’s story, and William Zabka carries it.
What did surprise me about the series was how engrossed I was in the supporting cast's stories. Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan and Mary Mouser all deliver the most believable modern day high school performances I have seen in a long time. I watched this series to finally see LaRusso and Lawrence go at it again, but even if they weren’t in the show, the young cast would have made it an entertaining watch.
The best thing “Cobra Kai” does is make the story believable. The writing made you feel sorry for Johnny Lawrence, one of the most iconic villains of the ‘80s. We were trained to believe the Cobra Kai dojo was the embodiment of evil. Yet when Johnny revives the dojo, we are filled with delight as we see him finally do what he is good at and has always loved. “The Karate Kid” featured one of the most black and white “good vs. evil” conflicts. “Cobra Kai” managed to blur the line, and you will occasionally find yourself on Johnny’s side, something once unfathomable for me.
One of my personal favorite parts of the show was the soundtrack. Songs from the original movie’s score — by LSU alumnus Bill Conti — were incorporated at just the right moments to bring back memories from the original. The show also included classic rock songs from some of my favorite bands including Queen, Boston and a scene featuring REO Speedwagon’s “Take It On The Run," perhaps now my favorite television scene ever.
There were a few times when it felt “Cobra Kai” went too far out of its way to include call-backs to “The Karate Kid.” Some of them were well done, most notably the inclusion of Commuter’s “Young Hearts,” which you will instantly recognize if you have seen the original film. Despite how heavy-handed they are, these call-backs did remind me what a great job the writers did of telling a new, unique story instead of just ripping off the original. However, I will admit I was disappointed Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best” was not included.
You do not need to be a superfan of “The Karate Kid” like me to enjoy “Cobra Kai.” As long as you have seen the original movie, you will enjoy the 10 episodes that feature relatable characters for anyone who was once in high school. YouTube Red offers a one-month free trial with a subscription that I intended to cancel after watching “Cobra Kai.” I still have not canceled it because I cannot stop rewatching the show. In an era where seemingly every movie or TV show is a sequel or remake preying on nostalgia, this one gets it right.