Cobra Kai writers, executive producers and NJ natives Josh Heald, Jon HurwitzÂ and Hayden Schlossberg talk Karate Kid sequel series, now on Netflix
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Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) head rival dojos in the exclusive trailer for Season 2 of YouTube’s « Cobra Kai. »
The saga of « The Karate Kid » has traveled all the way from New Jersey to Netflix.
Director John G. Avildsen’sÂ Oscar-nominated classic 1984 filmÂ wasÂ the story of Newark kid Daniel LaRusso, played by Ralph Macchio,Â transplanted to California and learning toÂ useÂ martial arts in order to stand up to the bullies from the Cobra Kai karate dojoÂ âÂ principally Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka.
« The beauty of the ‘Karate Kid’ film and why it stood the test of time is that he had no business winning anything, » Macchio told me in 2017, putting his character in league with some of Avildsen’s other iconic protagonists.Â « He was the every kid next door just like ‘Rocky’ (1976) was the every guy down the street or Jack Lemmon in ‘Save the Tiger’ (1973).
« These are people that we see ourselves in, and he had an uncanny ability to take those characters and bring them to heroic proportions in a very attainable, accessible way.â
Ralph Macchio in a scene from the first season of « Cobra Kai, » now streaming on Netflix. (Photo: Courtesy of Jace Downs/Sony Pictures Television)
Over nearly 40 years it’s continued to be a tale of evolution asÂ across three sequel films, a remake and aÂ streaming successor seriesÂ the players of « The Karate Kid » have adapted to new environments and honed theirÂ skills, always mindful of legacy and tradition.
The same can be said for « Cobra Kai, » the aforementioned follow-up series that’s brought the franchise into the streaming era.Â
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Sony Pictures Television’s Emmy-nominated seriesÂ debuted on YouTube Red in 2018. Its first two seasons arrive on Netflix on Friday, Aug. 28, with a third season expected to arrive in 2021.Â
« Cobra Kai » picks up in present day, with Daniel riding high as a successful car dealerÂ and family man. Meanwhile, Johnny is down on his luck, stuck in the past and hoping to revive his oldÂ dojo as he’s mentally and emotionally trapped by the toxic lessons of his former sensei John Kreese (played by Martin Kove).
William Zabka, left, and Ralph Macchio in a scene from « Cobra Kai, » now streaming on Netflix. (Photo: Courtesy of Guy D’Alema)
Macchio and Zabka return as Daniel and Johnny, respectively, and also serve as co-executive producers on « Cobra Kai. »
The series is written and executive produced by Josh Heald, Jon HurwitzÂ and Hayden Schlossberg. Heald, the writer of the « Hot Tub Time Machine » franchise, grew up in Middletown, Monmouth County,Â while Hurwitz andÂ Schlossberg from Randolph, Morris County, created the successful « Harold andÂ Kumar »Â series.
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« The really rewarding thing for us when setting up the show and continuing to write the show is that a lot of the themes in that movie are just very universal in terms of bullying, in terms of personal connection, coming of age, overcoming personal obstacles, finding mentorship where you least expect to find it, » said Heald.Â « And all of those transformative and big kind of moments in your life were as true and as poignant in 1984 as they are today, so it never felt like a dated property to us. »
« Cobra Kai » makes for compelling viewing as it strikes a balance betweenÂ affection for ‘The Karate Kid’ and a willingness toÂ examine the perspective from which Avildsen and company told their crowd-pleasing underdog story. Pointedly, the series opens with the first film’s climactic karate tournament, this time asking you to consider how Johnny felt after Daniel delivered a devastating crane kick to his face.
âWhile staying 100 percent true to the (franchise), we liked the idea of looking back and realizing, âYou know what? We were only following one perspective,’ » saidÂ Schlossberg.Â « And maybe, had we been following Johnnyâs perspective, we would have felt differently at the end of the tournament.
« And those themes are what excite us. Weâre taking advantage of the fact that our format is a series as opposed to a film, where we can play with different perspectives. And if youâve watched âThe Karate Kid,â it really provides that opportunity to …Â reflect on your own life and how things have changed, but also look back on that movie in a fun way.â
William Zabka, center left, and Xolo Mariduena, center right, in a scene from the first season of « Cobra Kai, » now streaming on Netflix. (Photo: Courtesy of Jace Downs/Sony Pictures Television)
That, beyond the chance to work with original stars like Macchio and get to make knowing call-backs, was why « Cobra Kai » was made.
« It was looking back at our own childhoods and our own pasts and reflecting on how we change as we get older,â said Schlossberg.
The work of a trio of Jersey guys who also happen to be lifelong « Karate Kid » fans, the heart of « Cobra Kai » is found in Johnny and Daniel’s mentoring relationships a new generation of characters, including Daniel and Johnny’s children.
ThisÂ modern perspective affords Heald, Hurwitz and Schlossberg the opportunity toÂ deconstructÂ Avildsenâs classic 1980s American archetypes, asking who Daniel and Johnny would be as adults in modern America.
Mary Mouser, from left, Ralph Macchio and Tanner Buchanan in a scene from the second season of « Cobra Kai, » now streaming on Netflix. (Photo: Courtesy of Bob MahoneySony Pictures Television)
âWeâre in a time where socially, I think, and politically people are examining the world in a much deeper way and the rights and wrongs of the past and the perspectives of the past, » said Hurwitz.Â « I think whether itâs the Internet age or whatever, the social media age, where everyoneâs opinions are out there, everything is being explored and dissected from a wide array of perspectives.
« So why not analyze whatever film properties we all know and love and look at them from every angle and see if they were pure or if there were things underneath the surface that were worthwhile to unpack?â
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The first two seasons of « Cobra Kai, »Â « The Karate Kid » (1984),Â « The Karate Kid Part II » (1986) and « The Karate Kid Part III » (1989) are currently available to view on Netflix. For more information, visitÂ www.netflix.com/CobraKai.
Alex Biese has been writing about art, entertainment, culture and news on a local and national level for more than 15 years.
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