YouTube Red is hoping to widen their audience with a quasi-sequel to the 80s pop-culture hit The Karate Kid, and it’s probably not what you were expecting (if you were expecting anything at all).
Cobra Kai is a 10-episode, original series that continues the ongoing saga of Daniel LaRusso, the aw-shucks hero from the first three Karate Kid movies.
The Karate Kid was an odd duck of a film when it was released 30 years ago. A fish-out-of-water meets coming-of-age action-drama about an east coast kid and his single mom who moved to sunny southern California in the mid-80s. Land of swimming pools, movie stars… and roving Karate gangs.
Ralph Macchio starred as Daniel LaRusso, a working-class kid with a smart mouth, but no physical skills to back it up. He was opposed by William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence, a rich kid with a bad attitude and (unfortunately for Daniel) a black belt in Karate. Daniel and Johnny met and fought and fought some more, with Daniel taking the worst of it.
As the classic story goes, Daniel learned the zen philosophies of Karate from an elderly Japanese gardener, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), while Johnny absorbed the “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” mantra of a deranged Vietnam Vet and martial arts teacher, Kreese (Martin Kove). Daniel and Johnny eventually settled their score at the Under-18 All Valley Karate Championships… and a sappy Hollywood ending ensued.
Now YouTube Red is resurrecting the premise, returning Macchio and Zabka revisit to their original roles, sans mentors (they are the masters now, destined to fight again, despite being way, way over the hill). In a sly twist, the action-drama setup has been superseded by an action-comedy punchline, which if you think about it kinda makes sense.
You see, The Karate Kid films were really covert comedies — as a lifelong martial artist myself, I can assure you that waxing cars and painting fences does not prepare one to succeed in the ring (not in 1984, and less so in 2018). But you already knew that, I suspect. Despite the lunacy of this premise, Johnny learned enough from Miyagi in just a few weeks to win a tournament stacked with highly-trained fighters (including Hollywood action-star Steve McQueen’s son, Chad). Trivia!
YouTube Red dropped a teaser for Cobra Kai today, which appears to reignite the old LaRusso-Lawrence conflict. Why? Because: “Some Rivalries Never End.” At least, that’s what the teaser says in bold, metallic block letters. It closes on a single shot of both characters squaring off in street clothes inside the new Cobra Kai dojo. It also looks like a lot of dumb, testosterone-driven fun.
Cobra Kai is also quite different from the rest of YouTube Red’s original content. The service currently offers dozens of original documentaries, reality shows, short films, and full-length features that skew very much teen and millennial. So, it’s unclear how a series about 50-something martial artists fits with the rest of their content, but maybe that’s the point.
YouTube Red is a streaming service similar to Hulu, Amazon Video, and Netflix, but with far fewer original shows and films. Cobra Kai might represent a broadening of their demographic focus, which is financially wise as teens and millennials tend to believe that everything on the Internet is free. Unfortunately, after two years in existence, YouTube Red only has around 1.5 million subscribers, despite Google investing tens of millions to generate compelling content.
Ultimately, Cobra Kai might seem like a strange addition to YouTube Red’s lineup, but it’s just the kind of nostalgia-based content that’s earned Netflix roughly 120 million subscribers around the world (and counting). Can Cobra Kai can tip the scales for them? That’s uncertain, but then no one expected Daniel LaRusso to win that Karate tournament in 1984 either — never bet against the underdog!
Cobra Kai hits YouTube Red in 2018.