I’m sure a lot of nostalgia fans have heard about the upcoming YouTube Red series Cobra Kai which features a grown up Daniel and Johnny from the 1984 film The Karate Kid.
Now this sounds like nostalgia heaven right? That is until you realise that Josh Heald and Jon Hurwitz are the writers and directors. The pair are best know for their Harold and Kumar/Hot Tub time Machine brand of stoner type comedy, and it’s been revealed the series will feature a comedic feel.
This is where my heart sank!
I grew up with the Karate Kid trilogy. Every one of the three films was made in the 80s and it was one of the reasons I got into martial arts in the first place, so it has a very special place in my heart. The 2010 remake had some nice choreography but zero heart and was simply a cash in playing off the name. It wasn’t even Karate they were doing, it was Kung-Fu!
Now normally I’d just write something like this series off but the second I heard about it I could see the potential, but not as a comedy, as a drama. I like to speculate so here’s my idea of what I think could make a fantastic series if done in the right way –
Following the funeral of Sensei John Kreese, a guilty and down on his luck Johnny returns to open up the Cobra Kai. He meets Daniel again and the two become friends. Daniel, who is struggling in life without his beloved Mr Myagi, agrees to help Johnny in order to try and give both of them focus in life.
It doesn’t sound like much but look between the cracks and see the potential. Johnny became one of the good guys at the end of the first Karate Kid by personally handing Daniel the trophy and saying “You’re alright Larusso”. This shows that he was probably good all along but being at an impressionable age, he was pushed by Kreese to be a bit of a dick. This along with teenage insecurity cause the bully like chest beating we saw in the first film. This means they’d need to become friends in the new series, becasue anything else would be a step backward in the character development of Johnny.
Now every story needs conflict so how can they do that if they are friends? Well, do you agree with every single of of your friends? No, and that can be milked.
Daniel and Johnny will have different ways of doing things. Johnny still being a bit of a hot head and Daniel still having the wise teachings of Myagi. The two will bond over the loss of both their mentors, but Johnny will have hidden demons and that demon will be Kreese. Having been mentally scarred by Kreese but also guilty for feeling that he betrayed his teacher, his ghost will constantly appear to torment Johnny and make him do bad things and make bad choices. This would afford a really good supporting role for Martin Kove and it would be a tug of war for Johnny in that he wants to be friends with Daniel but he also feels that Daniel is the reason he betrayed his mentor.
There’s OODLES of potential for drama here. Conflict aplenty as the two butt heads about how students should be taught, with the ghost of Kreese whispering in Johnny’s ear. Johnny would be constantly harassing Daniel to teach him the ways of Myagi’s Karate too, but Daniel would see that his hot head would not be ready. Tender moments of Daniel and Johnny just talking about their youth and their teachers as friends would elevate the emotional level, plus there’s also an incredible amount of potential for Easter eggs littered throughout the series. Guest appearances from people in the films like Kumiko, Ali, Chozen, Jessica, the other Cobra Kai members and many others plus references and location spotting. The possibilities are almost endless and could be woven into one of the best pieces of TV today.
Stranger Things showed what a powerful thing nostalgia treated with dramatic respect can be. Cobra Kai could very well be the next step in that evolution if given to the right people, but Unfortunately I don’t have much faith in the writer/director team. YouTube Red isn’t exactly known for it’s high production values and losing all that potential in a cheaply sea of wacky stoner and sex jokes is probably the most disrespectful thing I could think of, and all that dramatic potential could be lost.
Now, of course I could be wrong. Behind every comedy mind there is a tormented and struggling artist waiting to get out, but given that the series has already been named as a comedy I just don’t hold much hope for all that beautiful dramatic screentime which I would crave.
I keep using the word “potential” quite a lot and can only hope that someone else (Netflix) realises the level of it here and quickly takes this project into safer hands.