31 Pilots in 31 Days: Cobra Kai

When it was originally on: 2018-present

Original network: YouTube, but moved to Netflix in 2020.

Where you can stream it now: Netflix

Had I seen it before: No. I had seen the original Karate Kid movie but not its sequels.

What IMDb says: Decades after their 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament bout, a middle-aged Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence find themselves martial-arts rivals again.

Why I picked it: Cobra Kai is one of Netflix’s bigger hits of the last few years, despite not actually starting out there. Clearly Netflix saw its potential and the show is popular enough now to prove Netflix right, but they weren’t involved in developing this additional pilot, or the first three seasons for that matter. That makes Cobra Kai one of two pilots we’re looking at this go-around to make such a journey, the other being Peacock’s Girls5eva which isn’t on Netflix yet but is on its way. (See also You, a pilot I’ve already reviewed here.)

And much like Amazon’s A League of Their Own, The Karate Kid is a popular movie but not necessarily an obvious choice for a reboot. If TV is going to insist everything be based on pre-existing IP, the least they can do is make interesting choices about what IP to use.

What I liked: I love that they went with the less obvious choice of centering this show not on Daniel La Russo, but on Johnny, who was our protagonist’s bully back in 1984. They’ve also done a great job of making an adult Johnny that still feels like a natural progression of the one we know from his teen years, and one we can still root for. It makes sense that Johnny would’ve peaked in high school. It makes sense that Johnny grows up to drive an expensive car while living in a shitty apartment. It makes sense that Johnny would be the type of Gen-Xer to refer to Gen Z as a “pussy generation.” These bully characteristics are still there, yet at the same time Johnny is now an underdog we can actually root for.

To make matters worse, they’ve made Adult Daniel La Russo a car salesman. Johnny is haunted by his face everywhere he goes. It’s super smart how the show immediately tells us not to worry, Daniel is still around and part of this story, but we’re not entirely sure when or where their paths are going to cross. It gives us something to look forward to. We get a taste of their interactions before the pilot is over. They absolutely nail the passive-aggressive dynamic they were going for. Who hasn’t had an awkward interaction with someone from high school that they don’t particularly like, but had to pretend to be mature? That’s what we get here. It’s so clear these two still are bitter about what happened in high school, but they’re pretending they’ve buried the hatchet to save face.

What I didn’t like: By the end of the pilot, Johnny has accepted a Mr. Miyagi-esque sensei role in the life of a teenager who just moved into his building. I wish we could’ve gotten to know a little bit more about this teenager. It’s pretty clear that the story is ultimately going to end up in here in spite of Johnny’s earlier protests, even moreso if you know the original movie. I don’t fully get introducing a character, making it abundantly clear that this character will be a main character of the series, but not giving us any defining character traits about this person.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It definitely shows promise. It’s one of those pilots that feels like it ends right as we get to the good part, and that’s usually a sign you did it right.

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