TV Review: Cobra Kai

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

EPISODE: Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2

PLOT: Thirty-four years after his defeat by Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) tries to get his lief back on-track by reopening the Cobra Kai dojo, putting him in the cross-hairs of his former enemy.

REVIEW: Who would have ever thought that this would get made? I honestly thought that 1989’s THE KARATE KID PART 3 was the last word on the Daniel LaRusso saga, and despite an ill-advised reboot with THE NEXT KARATE KID, I figured the Jaden Smith remake was the way the franchise would go (Will Smith actually has a producer credit on this). Luckily, we live in a crazy world of streaming TV, with new services trying to bring in audiences the best way they can. One of the hottest strategies, it turns out, has been to appeal to nostalgia.

YouTube Red just may have struck a little gold mine with this, their most prominent original series yet. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that audiences who love the original KARATE KID will sign-up in droves (although keeping them hooked after the series ends will be the challenge). A direct sequel to the first three films, with plenty of references at least to the first two (including lots of stock footage) worked-in, this is a legit sequel.

Interestingly, Daniel LaRusso isn’t quite the lead. Ralph Macchio has a big role, but it can’t be denied “Cobra Kai” is actually Johnny’s story, with Zabka our star. While mostly off-the-grid in recent years, Zabka’s made it through the intervening years in shockingly good form, looking at least ten years younger than his actual fifty-two years. Now middle-aged, we see that Johnny never quite managed to get things back on-track following his defeat by LaRusso, with him pointing out it was in illegal hit that did him in. It doesn’t help that LaRusso’s a hometown hero, with a thriving auto dealership, and lots of cash to throw around. A windfall (delivered by a cameoing Ed Asner) leads to him re-opening Cobra Kai, hoping to rebuild his life.

Now, “Cobra Kai” wouldn’t work if Lawrence was two-dimensional. While he’s un-p.c, he has a good heart here (the show also acknowledges the long-standing theory that Johnny wasn’t that bad, with Daniel always the instigator of their fights to a certain degree). He takes a couple of wimps under his wing, and in some ways Daniel is the antagonist, even though we see that he’s still a total mensch, with Macchio playing him with a lot of heart.

The fact that both guys bring so much to the series is going to be what keeps it going, and they deliver in a huge way. I especially like that Macchio’s Daniel is shown to miss Mr. Miyagi, who, just like Pat Morita, has passed on here. I’ve only gotten to see the first two episodes, but taken together they perfectly set up which should be a fun season. The tone is well-established, with this not exactly a drama, but not exactly the comedy the trailers seemed to set up either. It’s funny, but in a more character-based, realistic way – not unlike the movies themselves. As a legit fan of the original trilogy (I actually think PART 2 is the best), I think “Cobra Kai”’s terrific, and I hope audiences embrace it.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.