Thirty four years after Ralph Macchio stood up to William Zabka in the original The Karate Kid, the main protagonists are back at odds for Cobra Kai, a streaming sequel available on YouTube Red. Much older, and slightly wiser, Daniel (Macchio) and Johnny (Zabka) are still dealing with the repercussions of that iconic kick to the face that made one an All Valley Karate champion... and the other a perpetual loser who gets the short end of life's stick. If you grew up on The Karate Kid and its sequels, and you're now an adult, you are in luck. However, if you are a parent wanting to show your own kids what happened with the Karate Kid characters in the new Cobra Kai... well, pump your brakes.
Both The Karate Kid and its uplifting sequel, The Karate Kid Part II, arrived in theaters with a family-friendly PG rating. Which made sense. Directed by Rocky helmer John G. Avildsen, these films were meant to inspire a young generation to stand up for themselves, to make friendships that last lifetimes, and to build on your inner strength to rise up and be a champion. If Cobra Kai opened in theaters, though, it'd be tagged with an R rating, and it really wouldn't even be up for debate.
This is a strange choice for a series that's inspired by two PG movies aimed at a younger generation. Even acknowledging that Cobra Kai is probably made to appeal to one-time fans of The Karate Kid who are now in their 40s and older, the mature and surprisingly edgy series alienates any type of family viewing with a fair number of its creative storytelling choices.
The language, right off the bat, elevates Cobra Kai to an R-rated level. Though Daniel (Ralph Macchio) gets cut off from dropping a full MF-er in one of the early episodes, pretty much every curse in the book flows from the mouths of Johnny (William Zabka), Daniel, and the teenagers cast to play the kids in their current universes. Teenagers swear. Hardly a shock. But when Daniel drives past the billboard of an auto dealer competitor and waves the middle finger, it's a reminder that Cobra Kai isn't courting a new generation of potential Karate Kid fans.
The edgy material doesn't stop there. Johnny's son steals laptops from local electronics stores and sells them as a fence. The son and father are estranged, and Cobra Kai pulls no punches to show that Johnny's basically a deadbeat dad with no interest -- initially -- of supporting his ex-wife and kid. Daniel's daughter, Sam (Mary Mouser), hangs out with prototypical "Mean Girls" at her high school who casually use drugs and cyberbully fellow classmates. In one episode, Sam has to fend off her semi-boyfriend, Kyler (Joe Seo), who's aggressively forcing himself on the young girl in a movie theater. Because he's angry that Sam has rebuffed his advances, Kyler ruins Sam's reputation by telling her classmates that she went down on him. Mature stuff.
Is an edgier Karate Kid story a bad thing? Absolutely not. These characters have advanced, as has their audience, and if Cobra Kai wants to go after an older and more mature crowd, that's certainly its prerogative. I was genuinely surprised when one subplot in episode four revolved around a billboard for LaRusso Auto that is vandalized. How is it vandalized? With a drawing of dicks going into Daniel's mouth. If this was Netflix, and they were making an American Vandal crossover, I'd be impressed. Since it's not, the material just felt out of place having sprung from the innocent and inspirational Karate Kid movies.
Again, it's a legitimate choice on Cobra Kai's part to embrace the edgier material and appeal to adults. I lament the fact that I can't share this show with my kids, both of whom really like the Karate Kid movies and probably would dial into some aspects of Cobra Kai. But for now, this isn't a show made for them. They'll have to wait to find out what was to come between Daniel and Johnny.
Cobra Kai is a 10-episode original series from Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald and Hayden Schlossberg that is available right now on YouTube Red. Have you checked it out yet? What are your thoughts?
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