Cobra Kai is a sequel to a 35-year-old movie, released as a YouTube TV series, blending nostalgia with heart, parody, and action, starring actors most people hadn’t seen in decades. It had every single right to fail miserably. But, somehow, this follow-up to the ‘80s classic The Karate Kid was a hit, and one of its stars still can’t believe it worked.
“The surprise was we hit all those different shifts in tone and it didn’t feel like you were jumping out of the story,” Ralph Macchio, who reprises his role as Daniel LaRusso, told io9 last month. “That’s what we were going for. It’s just, [we wondered], ‘Is this going to work?’ And it did. These guys, [executive producers] Jon [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald] and Hayden [Schlossberg], they are Karate Kid super fans living the dream, writing the show that they know the fans want.”
Season two of Cobra Kai debuts April 24, and it begins with Daniel in a place he’s not used to being: on the losing side. In all three of his Karate Kid movies, Daniel LaRusso triumphed. But in season one of Cobra Kai, Daniel’s student loses to a student from Cobra Kai, the studio run by Daniel’s longtime nemesis, Johnny Lawrence (again played by William Zabka).
“[Daniel] looks at the victory by Cobra Kai as something that could contaminate the youth of the San Fernando Valley,” Macchio said. “And so it’s tough to sit idly back and not try to show a better way. Instinctively it’s more about ‘I’m not going to let this happen’ and it becomes about ‘Let me take the teachings, the legacy, what I believe, what I’ve learned and figure out a way to spread this good word, that the truth and the positive will set you free and be victorious in the end.’ But, like Mr. Miyagi said back in the day, it’s not as easy as it looks.”
With Daniel now rising to the full-fledged position of sensei, and Miyagi’s legacy looming large over him, you can imagine season two of Cobra Kai raises the stakes and gets more personal. It almost mirrors a similar arc from The Karate Kid Part II where Daniel and Mr. Miyagi go to Okinawa to face the teacher’s past.
“[The Karate Kid Part II] was about two cultures,” Macchio said. “And interestingly you can draw that parallel because Cobra Kai is a culture and Miyagi-Do is a different culture...then you add the John Kreese to it all and the alliances are being pulled. All of a sudden what seems simple gets more and more complicated.”
Kreese, played by Martin Kove, was the Cobra Kai sensei from the original Karate Kid trilogy who made a shocking return as a cliffhanger at the end of Cobra Kai season one. His return will pose complications for both Johnny and Daniel, but it remains to be seen if those problems will be embraced in the same way issues in season one were. That whole scenario holds a special place in Macchio’s heart, no matter what happens moving ahead.
“One of my favourite scenes in the series was the first scene I shot,” Macchio said. “The scene where I confront Johnny Lawrence in the dojo at the end of episode two...It was just Billy and I working for the first time in 30-plus years, and it just had a chemistry and a palpable energy to it.”
“For the most part in The Karate Kid Johnny beat the crap out of Daniel, Daniel got Miyagi to help them, they had a fight and he won with the kick,” Macchio continued. “We didn’t have those scenes that were just about two teenagers hating each other. So [now] it’s two adults and having stuff under the surface, having the history and wisdom, [as well as] the lack thereof because they think they know what the other one is but they really don’t.”
Much like Johnny and Daniel, Cobra Kai has a lot going on below the surface. If you haven’t watched it and only know it a “the Karate Kid YouTube show,” sure, it can seem kind of silly. But the way each episode pays tribute to a classic movie should continue to delight fans and non-fans alike.
“There are few movies, in retrospect, that can go three decades deep, people still talk about, mean something and are on television somewhere every week on the planet,” Macchio said. “So I felt that [the fans were] out there. If we brought them to the well they would drink the water. What I did not expect was the overwhelming, across the board positive response.”
Now they just have to do it again.
Cobra Kai returns to YouTube Premium April 25. We’ll have more for you then regarding Macchio’s reaction to the events in season two but for now, here’s the new trailer.