Sunday, May 6, 2018

Cobra Kai is Laugh-Out-Loud Funny, Touching, & Inspiring



You've been warned: there are spoilers following!

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Rating: ✭✭✭✭✭

It's a weird thought that Ralph Macchio is two months older than me. Which means that in 1983, when he was filming The Karate Kid, one of my all-time favorite films, he might have been heading to the local bar when filming was done for the day and ordering a martini instead of heading back home to catch up on homework. In the film he appears no older than sixteen, and comes across as a sixteen-year-old.

I watched the second Karate Kid, but skipped the third. I didn't enjoy the second one nearly as much as the original, and the third looked just lame, so I didn't bother. Listening to Ralph Macchio in various interviews he gave this week after Cobra Kai premiered, he pretty much feels the same way I do about the sequels. It's the original that really kicks ass, and for which he is, rightfully, proudest.

Cobra Kai revisits Daniel LaRusso, "the karate kid," but thirty-four years later. Importantly, however, the revisit isn't through his eyes. At least not initially, and not even the majority of the time. Indeed, we come back to this world through the eyes of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), the bullying rival he ends up confronting and defeating in the tournament at the end of the first film.

Lawrence hasn't had it good. When we catch up to him, he's divorced, living in a shithole apartment, drunk half the time, and soon jobless and wondering what the hell to do with his life. He and his son are estranged; his son is constantly in trouble in school and well on his way to a life of lawlessness and probably an early, if not violent, death.

Contrast that with Daniel LaRusso, who has become a very successful car salesman, with franchises spreading throughout Southern California. He's got it all--married to a beautiful woman, who operates the business with him, two kids, both of whom are nowhere near the skinny tails of the bell curve, a big house, social opportunities, and fewer demons residing in his closet.

Or so we're led to believe.

Lawrence, desperate and not just a little hung over, decides to re-open Cobra Kai, the karate school he was taught at. Daniel, driving by the manky strip mall it's located in, notices.

And the floodgates open.

But this isn't a story about hero versus villain. That's one of the greatest things about it. We find out that Johnny Lawrence isn't all bad; and we find out that Daniel LaRusso isn't all good. Even more shocking, to them especially, is that they actually have some important things in common. The scene where they end up at a bar discovering that about each other is easily one of the best scenes I've seen in television the past three decades. But then I'm not sure. Because there are a ton of other scenes throughout this ten-episodes premier season that compete with it. That's how good this new series is.

Of course, we can't open a new karate school without meeting the new students who, under Lawrence's stern, sometimes cruel--and sometimes very inspiring--tutelage, are destined to become the new Cobra Kai. And as for Daniel LaRusso, the gi he hung up years ago isn't going to stay there much longer. Lawrence's boy comes into his wheelhouse, and they become fast friends. Daniel, not knowing it is Lawrence's kid, begins training him.

The floodgates have opened, and now the shit is flying towards the fan.

Or pick your own metaphors.

I dare you not to binge-watch this new series. Double dare you.

I feel ridiculously fortunate. I have Star Trek: Discovery, which premiered within the last year and is so good that it's a legitimate threat to eclipse all the Trek series before it; and now this. Cobra Kai will touch you, make you laugh, draw out a tear or two, and make you pump your fist in the air. Sometimes in the same half-hour episode, and almost certainly during the next episode, which you'll tell yourself you'll save for tomorrow night, but will end up queuing up right after the one you're watching ends.

Enjoy. It's a superlative, wonderfully written and acted series. You can always watch it again and again--just like the film. I will. I bet you do, too.

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