MAY 4, 2018

http://www.rockwired.com/CapitalYTimes.jpgOUTUBE RED has been a thing since 2014 and yet, it's only selling point has been a commercial-free viewing experience on YOUTUBE. The original programming that it comes with has left much to be desired and seems to be on a production level not far above the likes of PEWDIEPIE or GLOZELL.  For the kind of entertainment that sucks you in  and keeps you from doing work around the house, people have historically gone to either NETFLIX or HULU for their binging. $10.99 a month is just too much for a paltry listing of programming that looks like it came from DISNEY CHANNEL's rejection bin, but with the May 2nd release of the original series COBRA KAI - the latest entry in the shaky KARATE KID franchise -YOUTUBE RED may have taken that first step into being a formidable paid streaming subscription service.


Set 34 years after the original KARATE KID film (the only one worth going back to), the briskly paced 10-part, half-hour series makes an informal antagonist out of the 1984 classic's crane kicking underdog DANIEL LaRUSSO (RALPH MACCHIO) and a a good guy out of a  now middle aged and embittered JOHNNY LAWRENCE - played once again by WILLIAM ZABKA.

Yes, the roles have been reversed. JOHNNY is now a down-and-out handyman with a drinking problem, a beat up red convertible  and a strained relationship with his son ROBBY (TANNER BUCHANAN). Hell, the guy even gets disowned by his monstrous, wealthy stepfather SID WEINBERG - played by the fittingly curmudgeon ED ASNER - in the very first episode.  One night, he witnesses his neighbor MIGUEL DIAZ (XOLO MARIDEUNA) getting attacked  by a pack of hoods led by KYLER (JOE SEO). Once MIGUEL is thrown against the hood of JOHNNY's car, JOHNNY comes to a half-hearted rescue and issues the very kick to the face that did him in at the 1984 ALL VALLEY UNDER-18 KARATE CHAMPIONSHIP. The bad boy errancy that made ZABKA the quintessential bully of eighties cinema is in full effect. The actor's trademark snarl hasn't aged a bit. Upon rescue, MIGUEL (This iteration's DANIEL SAN) is in awe of JOHNNY's fancy footwork and wants to learn how to fight. Despite telling the kid to scram at first, JOHNNY has  a change of heart when he comes face to face with LaRUSSO after his car is rear ended by some high school bitches a couple of nights before. When JOHNNY discovers that one of the girls in the car that rear-ended him that night was LaRUSSO's daughter SAMANTHA, our protagonist gets a fire in his belly and agrees to become MIGUEL's sensei and decides to restore the COBRA KAI dojo. With what money, I wasn't clear.



In contrast, DANIEL LaRUSSO is the successful owner of a chain of LaRUSSO car dealerships throughout the Valley. The man's boyish charms are all there even if MACCHIO isn't exactly ageless anymore. By his side, is his supportive wife AMANDA (COURTNEY HENGGELER) and two children who make the struggle for balance a real one. His teenage daughter SAMANTHA is a former daddy's girl who has grown less interested in karate chops and more interested in fitting in with her local high school clique and eyeing the very KYLER who got a foot to the face by way of her father's old nemesis JOHNNY LAWRENCE. Before long, DANIEL learns that COBRA KAI is back in the valley and he ain't having none of it. Being the pillar of the community that he is, DANIEL will resort to some pretty shady tactics such as buttering up JOHNNY's landlord and asking him in raise the rent at the strip mall where COBRA KAI resides in order to "increase the market value" and drive the struggling dojo out. He is also on the committee for the ALL VALLEY KARATE TOURNAMENT which has sanctioned COBRA KAI from ever competing again. I could only wonder if the late-MR. MIYAGI would've approved of such tactics. Through early teasers and trailers for the show, LaRUSSO is painted as a big shot villain, but villainy isn't in the cards for the very character responsible for our investment in this franchise in the first place. Any ill will from LaRUSSO is rooted in memories from the past and the absence of his friend and mentor MR. MIYAGI. I must admit that a scene involved DANIEL trimming a bonsai tree at MIYAGI's grave had me welling up.


In an age of cyber-bullying it may be hard for some to believe there was a time when the best way to  deal with a bully was with fists as opposed to an endless stream of anti-bullying campaigns and blue ribbons. Tolerance and turning the other cheek have replaced self-respect and self-preservation and a show like COBRA KAI is all too happy to point that out. Just as ABC's reboot of ROSEANNE has successfully found an audience with a long neglected white middle America, COBRA KAI rails against the passive aggression, entitlement and lame music of millennials. Who better than ZABKA's JOHNNY LAWRENCE to lead this charge as sensei over some miserable high school nerds who've never taken a punch to the face? (Yes, just about every fledgling member of COBRA KAI gets a knuckle sandwich in one scene.) ZABKA's portrayal of the sexist, xenophobic JOHNNY  is pure STANLEY KOWOLSKI meets ARCHIE BUNKER and if the show gets a black eye by liberal media just as  ROSEANNE did for being a TRUMP supporter, that would be too bad. A lovable bigot never hurt a decent story.

When most franchises are let of out the bag after a few decades, they become modern day gloom fests for better (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) or for worse (Hey wasn't there a newer BIONIC WOMAN or something) but COBRA KAI is given some levity with dick jokes, conveniently placed cultural references to the first film and the most fun eighties nostalgia this side of GRAND THEFT AUTO. The show's hard rocking soundtrack, featuring such dinosaurs as VAN HALEN, FOREIGNER,  REO SPEEDWAGON  (something he and LaRUSSO learn they have in common) and BOSTON, sets us on a joyous nostalgia ride through the very best that the REAGAN era had to offer in the days before IRAN CONTRA.

There is tons here for us old Gen X farts, but what about younger viewers? Do they even know what THE KARATE KID is? Do they actually think that the JADEN SMITH remake is what we're talking about here? The disconnect comes in the form of the shows 'second generation'. MIGUEL is the lanky protege to JOHNNY who helps him rebuild the COBRA KAI dojo. He is a cautious, measured and considerate young man who exudes none of the likability that MACCHIO boasted thirty years earlier. The character feels more like a vehicle for JOHNNY to get COBRA KAI up and running again. Even in the fight scenes in the series lacks any real spirit or tension but I'm grateful that they steered clear of the freeze framing that films like THE MATRIX made popular with their fight scenes. When MIGUEL recruits his outcast friends into the dojo, they emerge as more memorable characters than he, such as the cleft lipped, borderline-autistic ELI (JACOB BERTRAND) who transforms into the mohawked alpha dog HAWK thanks to torments by JOHNNY. AISHA ROBINSON (NICHOLE BROWN) is a nerdy, heavy girl who is body shamed by the clique that her former friend SAMANTHA LaRUSSO is hanging with. Of all of the students at COBRA KAI, she has taken to JOHNNY's message of "No Mercy" the most enthusiastically. Hell, it's her fighting that elicits the most cheers. And lets not even bring up that frontal wedgie she gives to a mean girl.


Perhaps AISHA should've been the protege, that way we wouldn't have had to put up with a silly love triangle involving MIGUEL and SAMANTHA LaRUSSO and JOHNNY's estranged son ROBBY who is working for LaRUSSO's car dealership and learning  the whole "wax on, wax off" approach to self defense through DANIEL.  ROBBY's motivation is simply to piss off his embarrassment of a father. If teen angst made the original KARATE KID the classic that it is, it almost holds COBRA KAI back with the exception of performances by both BERTRAND and BROWN. (SPOILER ALERT: Even when MIGUEL issues the lethal kick to ROBBY and restores COBRA KAI and JOHNNY to greatness, the moment falls flat because we are more invested in seeing JOHNNY react to his own son being beaten by his own student.)

There is way too much fun to be had here for me to ruin it by being the old man constantly reminding you young people about how it was back in my day. COBRA KAI is the sequel that we didn't know the we wanted to see. It will be interesting to see reactions from those not to keen on the elevation of a character like JOHNNY and  his spitfire brand of bigotry and sexism to something worthy of sympathy and redemption. I, for one, think it's the winning formula for this show and that such criticisms would be unfortunate. However, these are the TRUMP years, and maybe the fighting spirit behind this franchise is just what we need to make American great again.


http://www.rockwired.com/CapitalB.jpgrian Lush is a music industry professional and entrepreneur. In 2005 he launched the online music site Rockwired.com to help promote new music artists in conjunction with the weekly radio show Rockwired Live which aired on KTSTFM.COM from 2005 - 2009. In 2010 He launched the daily podcast series Rockwired Radio Profiles which features exclusive interviews and music. He has also developed and produced the online radio shows Jazzed and Blue - Profiles in Blues and Jazz, Aboriginal Sounds - A Celebration of American Indian and First Nations Music, The Rockwired Rock N Roll Mixtape Show and The Rockwired Artist of the Month Showcase. In 2012, Brian Lush and his company Rockwired Media LLC launched the monthly digital online publication Rockwired Magazine. The magazine attracts over 75,000 readers a month and shows no signs of stopping. Rockwired Magazine also bares the distinction of being the first American Indian-owned rock magazine. Brian Lush is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Brian Lush's background in music journalism, radio and podcast hosting, podcast production, web design, publicity, advertising sales, social media and online marketing, strategic editorial planning and branding have all made Rockwired a name that is trusted and respected throughout the independent music industry.

CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: djlush@rockwired.com