STARRING: William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, Jacob Bertrand, Hannah Kepple, Griffin Santopietro and Vanessa Rubio
Set thirty years after the events of the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament, the series focuses on Johnny Lawrence reopening the Cobra Kai dojo, which causes his rivalry with Daniel LaRusso to be reignited.
Cobra Kai is set thirty-four years after the events of the original film which concluded in Daniel LaRusso defeating Johnny Lawrence in the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament, we get a look in the daily lives of Johnny and Daniel. Johnny is currently working as a handyman in the Valley, being haunted by LaRusso everywhere he goes due to his karate-themed billboards and television adverts as he runs his own successful car dealership. Besides the car dealership, Daniel has a family but is struggling to maintain balance in his life without the guidance of his mentor Mr. Miyagi. Once Johnny Lawrence hits rock bottom, he decides to reopen the infamous Cobra Kai karate dojo, mentor young neighbour Miguel and reignite his rivalry with Daniel LaRusso.
The Karate Kid was a franchise I grew up enjoying as a kid and when I heard that there would be a series focusing primarily on where Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso are at in their lives. Struggling to find purpose, Johnny reopens Cobra Kai, taking in his young neighbour Miguel Diaz under his wing and I enjoyed the chemistry between the two of them. Johnny is very much still stuck in an 80’s mindset, from the car he owns right down to the music, to the inappropriate comments he makes that normally wouldn’t be said in todays climate, which Miguel is at hand to remind him of but to no avail. Whilst he teaches his aggressive philosophy to a bunch of kids that are being bullied, Daniel takes under his wing Robby Keene, who happens to be Johnny’s estranged son, not knowing that they’re related/connected in anyway. It’s the interesting parallel of how Johnny is mentoring the ‘Daniel’ type whilst Daniel mentors the ‘Johnny’ type, as we see how Robby is stealing and scamming people and we see how their philosophies change these teenagers during the course of the series. The show finds a great balance in how it handles its drama with humour, whilst how it pays homage to the original films, particularly in using flashback sequences for Johnny and Daniel in how they relive pivotal moments of their childhood for particular moments in the season.
William Zabka is great as Johnny Lawrence, who has a good heart and generally has the right intentions, sometimes not going about it the right way, while Ralph Macchio is also great as Daniel LaRusso, who is a bit more villainess than expected, primarily due to how driven he is to make sure that Cobra Kai is taken down no matter what. The young cast get to showcase their chops here to, with Xolo Maridueña shining as Miguel, as you follow his arc, he’s likeable and easy to root for. Tanner Buchanan is really good aswell, getting to deal with the more dramatic elements of this young cast, and he handles it well. Mary Mouser is also good as Daniel’s daughter Samantha, Jacob Bertrand gets the most notable arc out of them all as Eli Moskowitz, who ‘flips the script’ and gains confidence under Cobra Kai, transforming into Hawk. The karate sequences are done well and the All Valley Tournament finale is a particular high in the season.
A series focusing on an older Johnny and Daniel on paper shouldn’t be this good, but Cobra Kai has a tremendous amount of heart to maintain the roots of The Karate Kid original films, whilst letting itself be embraced by a new generation, thanks in large part to the performances by the ensemble involved. The ending does lead to a interesting direction for the second season to take. 9/10