BEFORE READING AHEAD BE AWARE THAT THIS REVIEW CONTAINS COMPLETE SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE. READER BEWARE.
Cobra Kai is the return of the Karate Kid franchise with an entire new spin on it. The series follows the life of Johnny Lawrence, the young man that lost to the Karate Kid himself at the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament. The unique spin on this new series is we are getting the story from a sympathetic Lawrence who has fallen down on his luck.
Episode one, entitled Ace Degenerate, opens up to let us know just how bad life has become from the ex-karate protégé of Cobra Kai. Lawrence is depicted as a loser and a has-been. His old karate trophies are in a box at the back of his closet. He lives in a crappy apartment and is a handy man constantly getting the worst of the worst odd jobs. It turns out that even 34 years later, Lawrence is still in the shadow of the Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso.
LaRusso owns a successful car dealership and apparently hasn’t let his past life as karateka be forgotten. The slogan of his high-end dealership: “We kick the competition.” Lawrence sees billboards of LaRusso, he’s on the radio, anywhere he goes, it seems he cannot escape that loss from 1984.
Lawrence meets a young, eager lad in his apartment complex named Miguel, who is excited to make friends. Lawrence blows him off. At the end of the long day, Lawrence is going get a slice of pizza at the local gas station and Miguel is there as well. Lawrence goes out to eat his pizza and Miguel is being bullied by some kids from his school. Lawrence stays out as the young man gets punched and beat up. It isn’t until Miguel gets thrown into Lawrence’s 1991 Pontiac Firebird, his pride and joy, that he intervenes.
The Return of Cobra Kai
Lawrence bust out the old karate moves and puts down all four of the kids as Miguel watches in astonishment. While it was a temporary and victorious moment for Johnny Lawrence, it drummed up old memories from his “hey day” that he had suppressed for a long time. He begins drinking (and driving), having flashbacks to the defeat to the Karate Kid and how his sensie, Cobra Kai, totally abused him. He goes to his old dojo, which is run down and closed. Some young women wreck into his parked car and take off. His car is wrecked, he’s drunk and his life is in shambles. It gets towed to the nearest dealership for repairs.
You can guess exactly where that car was towed: to the Karate Kid’s dealership. That’s where we run into Daniel LaRusso once again. Then you realize he is a complete douche. He subtly reminds Lawrence that he beat him all the way back in 1984 in front of his employees. The two obviously have some tension still.
After the exchange, Johnny Lawrence decides to take his life into his own hands. After thwarting Miguel’s bullies, he refused to teach him how to fight. Now, with renewed vigor and determination, Lawrence has decided to get back into the game. He takes the check given to him earlier in the episode from his asshole stepdad and buys a place to open his own dojo up, taking Miguel as his first student. The ending montage of Lawrence getting his new dojo ready sets up the series for a new adventure in the Karate Kid world.
Cobra Kai opens up with a sad look at Johnny Lawrence and gives us a new bad guy, the Karate Kid himself. It does a fantastic job of showing how life can change for people who were once thought to be good. The humor in the first episode was awesome and had me chuckling as well. Not as much karate in the first episode, but the show promises to show off more of the high-flying kicks we’ve become accustomed to from the franchise!