'Cobra Kai' Is Exactly the Kind of Toxic Masculinity We All Desperately Need
I am an '80s kid. I wore jelly bracelets and bubble skirts with ridiculously tall bangs. I lived for Knight Rider and Fantasy Island. But perhaps nothing else captured my generation more than The Karate Kid. I don't know what it was about that movie, but we loved it. My sisters and I were obsessed. Once, we were visiting family in Hawaii and saw cast members from Karate Kid II at the mall. It was totally rad.
So you can imagine my excitement at discovering that Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence were making a comeback on YouTube in a ten-episode series called Cobra Kai, continuing the story that started in Reseda, California, over thirty years ago. The series is so much better than even I (a super fan) could have imagined. It might be the best show I've seen in the last decade. Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka, was the perfect '80s bad boy. Blonde, entitled, badass. As a kid, I didn't think too much about what his story was, although something about the way Ralph Macchio's character Daniel treated him never sat well with me. Larusso was such a hothead. I remember thinking during the famous hose over the head scene, "Why the heck are you antagonizing a guy with eight friends with black belts?" It was stupidity bordering on psychosis. Did he expect to not take a beating after that?
Cobra Kai gives us what we've all been waiting for: an in-depth look at who these characters were then and are now. Johnny Lawrence wasn't just a badass jerk, but a lonely kid with no father and a desire to be loved and accepted. Instead of finding a gentle soul like Mr. Miyagi to inspire and coach him, Lawrence found John Kreese, a sadistic villain who shaped him into his likeness and then betrayed him.
Johnny Lawrence is not the bad guy in Cobra Kai, but the hero, and we get to see him—with all his flaws and vulnerability—struggling through life. He can't keep a job, he has a drinking problem, a son who doesn't speak to him, and is barely scraping by. When he meets another fatherless kid looking for mentorship, Lawrence decides to open Cobra Kai again, this time as sensei.
Johnny is exactly how you might expect him to be if he had spent the last 30 years in a bunker. He has no idea how modern life works, and instead of being unbelievable, it's hilarious. He can't work the web, has never heard of Facebook, still wears his red Members Only jacket and drives a Firebird. He also hasn't caught up with the PC culture at all and it makes for some howlers. I laughed till I cried when he lined up today's kids in his dojo and gave them the Johnny Lawrence treatment. I won't spoil it for you -- please just watch it.