I'm late to the party when it comes to Cobra Kai, the former YouTube Original-turned-Netflix-Original series. It always came recommended to me, but the checklist of series always expands with streaming offering quality programming in bulk. I finally checked the series out and it delivered more than I ever expected first reliving my childhood in the high school scenes and now entering middle-age, staring down the barrel of burnout. First, let's say that as a fan of the Karate Kid (1984) films grow up, it filled me with a sense of idealism, watching Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) journey together through a harsh world searching through the perseverance to find himself.
Where Cobra Kai comes in is how it deals is a harsh reality of a future where happy endings are such a Goddamn luxury. While stories that never originally intended to have sequels the way Star Wars had in their trilogy where it doesn't feel like so much advancement of a story, but it just feels like an insignificant trade, rinse and repeat. The TV series shines a light on intentionally underdeveloped characters and all of a sudden, they cease becoming one-not clichés. While the series delivers updates on both Daniel and Johnny (William Zabka), I felt like the show was a far greater reflection of myself in the mirror. There are quite a few who idealized and wanted to be like Daniel and in certain respects did achieve his success. When it comes to the blue-collar aspect of the series which spoke to me more, it's Johnny.
"The Karate Kid" and "Cobra Kai" in Pop Culture Terms
It's hard to deny the storyline trope of "lovable loser finds success," but the fact of why Cobra Kai speaks to me is Johnny's persistence. Yes, many within his life label him a loser as has many upon his students. Life for the most part isn't going to offer that miraculous helping hand and white knight their way to safety. So many of us don't have that "Miyagi" in our lives to rear that touch and wisdom right there and then. Hell, most of us would even be lucky to have someone like Johnny around to even push us to take charge and lead. Life has a funny way of showing us how to persevere. It comes in the form of the heroes we adopt. What's to say every single one has to share characteristics of Superman, Batman, or Captain America? Hell, one of my heroes growing up is Stone Cold Steve Austin. He didn't care if he fit some mold whether the fans like him or not. If anything, the WWF Attitude era shows us right there what happens when we resonate more with those "heroes" more like us than someone who holds an "ideal" and above everyone else. We went from worshipping Bret Hart, the man who became a superhero to many of us, to worshipping Austin, the man who didn't care and became "hero" regardless if he was on any pedestal. A more contemporary comparison is the Boys vs. the Supes on the Amazon series.
Does Johnny have his problems? Sure. Did he let life continuously beat him down? No, he kept fighting the only way he knew how, because his hard work allowed him to still get to where he wanted. What's the ultimate lesson in all of this? We may not have all the same qualities and ideals to travel the exact same path, but does it matter in the end if we all get to the same place? So many of us know of a "Johnny" in our lives whether if it's directly or staring at the mirror. If Johnny could help a Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) and an Aisha (Nichole Brown) find their voice because of him, then it's far better than what anyone else has ever done for them. The Karate Kid laid that foundation, but Cobra Kai tempers and refines into something so much more than the films ever could.