YouTube tried for a kill shot right in the nostalgia feels when they announced that Cobra Kai, a sequel to The Karate Kid, would be coming to YouTube Red. This is worth getting excited about for reasons that have nothing to do with the Karate Kid Ralph Macchio himself, however.
See, things were simpler back in the 80s. TV dinners became a thing. If you wanted to talk on the phone, you could only do it from your home or a pay phone. Technology was limited, but hinted at what the future could bring. America started to figure out it could eat a lot of fast food and that people liked money.
In those days movies and TV shows didn’t need to introduce much moral ambiguity when defining who the good guys are and who the bad guys should be, and that was precisely the environment needed to introduce Billy Zabka’s genius to the world.
Zabka’s first role was as the often imitated but never duplicated villain Johnny Lawrence. Villains like Lawrence exist to teach people that life is not fair, there are nefarious forces that can’t be controlled that leave a wake of consequences behind them by merely existing, and sometimes trouble will come for you. Lawrence’s motivations don’t even measure up to shallow. He is bad because that is what the narrative requires him to be, and Zabka embodied the role. Everything about Zabka’s look, from his facial expressions to beautiful, feathered hair, and from his body language to manner of speaking, confirms the inevitability of life’s challenges. To say Zabka became typecast is an insult to his legacy. People talk about acknowledging generational sex symbols; Billy Zabka showed a generation what it looked like when a moral compass points true south.
That right there. That is true south. That.
Father Time remains undefeated however, and that’s what makes Cobra Kai so interesting. Johnny Lawrence humanizes a bit at the end of The Karate Kid and the beginning of its sequel. What has Johnny Lawrence experienced in the 30 years since? What events have occurred in his life where a villain antagonized him? What could his family life even possibly be like? The potential character arc for Johnny Lawrence, portrayed by such an iconic villain actor like Zabka that has been on his own personal journey in real life, makes me giddy. Where does that moral compass point now, and what makes it point there?
The only way YouTube can screw this up is if they don’t bring the “YEAAAAAH” guy back, too.