In the 1984 film, The Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Macchio) delivered the kick heard around the world to Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka). The so-called bully, who back then was mistakenly understood to be Johnny, was defeated, and leaving Daniel to secure the win, the fame, but most importantly the girl (sarcasm). The Karate Kid forced viewers with an older sensibility to watch the film through Daniel’s eyes, however, in the 2018 continuation of the saga between Daniel and Johnny in the aptly titled YouTube series, Cobra Kai, the viewer gets to embrace his or her inner badass and root for a new, and the true, anti-hero, Johnny. Make no mistake, Cobra Kai is a fire show, but as Season Three approaches there is a serious concern because there has been rumors that a critical character on the show, Aisha Robinson (expertly played by Nichole Brown), the show’s first Black lead, may be cut entirely from the series. This would be a tragedy of the worst proportions and the show-runners at Cobra Kai should make sure this does not happen or else it risks ruining the show in the same short-sighted way that Game Of Thrones did in its final season. Aisha is too important and deserves better.
Cobra Kai opens by showing Johnny’s current life, which is devastating. He is no longer the supposedly handsome, popular and privileged kid that the Karate Kid audience was used to seeing. Now, he is a struggling handyman who works in the homes of other, much wealthier, people, many who treat him like “the help.” When Johnny is not getting into arguments and making wildly inappropriate comments towards clients, which eventually leads to him being fired, he can be found in his rundown apartment in Reseda, which is apparently still the poor side of town, even after all of these years. There, Johnny wakes up, drinks warm Coors beer, eats fried bologna and watches old movies.
Daniel, alternatively, is now presented as the epitome of success. He owns a successful string of car dealerships, belongs to a country club, has a large and lavish house, and has a wife and two spoiled, entitled kids. Daniel is the conqueror of the elusive American Dream. That is pretty much it for Daniel, who at least at first, is shown to lead a rich-people problems type of life with a lazy son and a shallow daughter.
What I really love about this series is that it is such an accurate portrayal of someone who peaked in high school and why doing so does not lead to future success. All the “hot babes,” (Johnny persists in speaking like this), cool cars and living among the wealthy could not keep Johnny from becoming the failure that we see in the modern day. Johnny wallows in both seasons, revealing partial truths about his high school experience to other characters, making himself out to be the victim and believing that getting beaten in the karate tournament by Daniel caused his life to go on a downward trajectory. In reality, this is all complete nonsense: Johnny felt entitled to a good life because he is white and blonde, apparently, the only two markers for success during the 80’s. To be fair though, while Johnny did grow up surrounded by wealth, he associates it with terrible memories of his verbally abusive stepfather (played by Ed Asner, who awesomely played Ed Wuncler in The Boondocks). Johnny’s sense of entitlement that he showed in the Karate Kid appears to have been all a façade as Cobra Kai slowly reveals his back story. However, instead of getting out of his own feelings so that he could realize that the world around him is changing, Johnny becomes a bitter, racist, misogynist who clings to the 80’s outdated ways because he is angry at the world because he is no longer on top of any hierarchies.
Daniel also shows himself to be someone who is stuck in the past. For instance, when Daniel asks his wife if she remembered who Johnny was, she responded by saying “Oh yeah, the blonde and handsome one.” Daniel denies telling her that but since one of the first comments Daniel makes to Johnny after seeing him decades later is a statement about his Johnny’s blonde hair. This, even though Johnny looked extremely rough, unshaven and barely showered, a look so shabby that Johnny was even mistaken as a beggar by another homeless person. None of this mattered to Daniel, who by many economic measures, was infinitely more successful than Johnny, but despite his success, Daniel was still enamored by Johnny’s blondeness. This shows that even Daniel could not move on from his youth and remained stunted in his own way. The dysfunctional relationship between these two middle-aged men, who in their different yet very similar ways, could not outgrow their teenage years, is really the driving force of the show.
Cobra Kai, to date, has been fire. However, it has a huge problem: the threat of not bringing Aisha Robinson, the key African American character back. Aisha Robinson is a great character and is one of the original students in Johnny’s dojo. Unlike Eli “Hawk,” Moscowitz, Aisha never became a bully throughout the series. She grew from being a painfully shy girl who was relentlessly bullied by her classmates, to a person who literally tore her tormentor, a mean girl bully who seemed to run the high school, a new vagina. Not unlike Hawk’s clueless mother, neither of Aisha’s parents seem to care enough about her to help her navigate school or life in general, which, under the circumstances, is extremely egregious. Aisha’s father, for instance, is a famous NFL player. Aisha’s family, who also belongs to the same country club as Daniel, clearly has as much wealth as other wealthy families, yet they are clueless about the ways that Aisha gets bullied by the mediocre rich kids. Surprisingly, Kim Fields (of Living Single fame) was cast to play Aisha’s mother later in the series. Ms. Fields is a wonderful actress, however, it was very surprising that she was cast as Aisha’s mother, because Aisha very obviously presents as biracial: when I first saw Aisha and her African American father, I assumed, perhaps like most people, that her mother was white. Such parentage would make complete sense as to why a wealthy African-American daughter of a NFL player, who presumably had a weight room somewhere in his lavish home, would still find her way to a sketchy strip mall on the poor side of town and end up being taught survival skills by an even sketchier character, Sensei Johnny Lawrence.
Cobra Kai is at its best when it conveys teenagers who have parents that are absent in some way. Miguel Rivera (awesomely played by Xolo Mariduena, of Parenthood) has trauma that led him to gleefully approach his neighbor Johnny when he first moved in, even though Johnny likely stunk of stale cigarettes and beer and introduced himself as the kid next-door who just wants to chat. Or, in Aisha and Hawk’s case, kids who have parents who simply don’t care about the realities of their children’s lives and make things worse. If Cobra Kai writers were smart, they would avoid the apparent Game of Thrones final season moment that they are headed towards by centering the frankly unbearably boring story line of Daniel LaRusso’s entitled daughter, Sam. Instead, the Cobra Kai show runners should focus Season Three the realistic consequences that Sam, Robby (Johnny Lawrence’s abandoned son) and Tory (played by Peyton List, of Jessie) would face in the juvenile criminal justice system, but also on the family back stories of Aisha, Hawk and the other original characters.
Aisha’s back story makes more sense if she has an African American father with a white mother and Cobra Kai should do Aisha’s story justice by exploring how the circumstance of racial and cultural neglect helped to contribute to her becoming a victim in her own community. Aisha as a character is far more important than Sam, who serves no purpose other than to be a clichéd trope and prototypical allegedly pretty white girl who boys fight for over as a prize, even though Sam literally has no substance to her. For instance, Sam follows cliques until they drop her, she doesn’t stand up to bullies unless it benefits her and worse, she allowed her mean-girl friends to viciously bully Aisha, her lifelong friend. That Cobra Kai chooses to focus constantly on Sam as a critical character and not Aisha, demonstrates the same short-sightedness that led to the disastrous last season of Game of Thrones. GOT failed to develop any of the Black characters who clearly had interesting back stories and deserved better, like Missandei, Gray Worm or the entire Martell clan (the Brown ones). Like GOT, Cobra Kai is allowing its African American characters to flounder, including Aisha, who along with Miguel is a key, original character who deserves much better, because of the inability or stubborn refusal of the Cobra Kai writing staff to go beyond themselves and see African American characters as fully fleshed people, deserving of the same attention that they give their stereotypical tropes.
In a just world, Cobra Kai, Season Three should be focused on Miguel’s status, but also, how Robby, Tory, Hawk and Sam (yes, her too!) all of them would be facing felony charges in real life, especially in California where laws are not kind to juveniles who commit crimes. The original Karate Kid showed outrageous bullying behavior that was left unpunished. Today, the delinquents’ behavior in the final episode would be dealt with harshly, at least for some kids, and the show should explore the different treatment that Sam and Hawk would face in the criminal justice system due to their upper class white privilege while everyone else gets what they get. So, because these characters would realistically be facing consequences more serious than fighting each other at competing dojos, at least for a while, if not forever, there’s a vacuum on the show’s story line. Such space should be filled by the original Queen Bee of Cobra Kai, Aisha. Who else has the beach ball sized lady nuts (thank Walking Dead’s Negan for this gem) to join forces with Johnny and go head to head with Hawk and John Kreese to help Johnny take back control of the dojo? The answer is no one, absolutely no one, except Aisha!
Cobra Kai is a great show because it shows that neglected kids will always find someone to give them attention, whether it be good or bad, when their parents don’t, won’t or can’t. It is by the grace of God that all teenagers don’t wander into that sketchy strip mall dojo. But we actually all have through the Cobra Kai series and the show is successful because, for the most part, it shows the complexities of navigating one’s demons. But Cobra Kai is in serious danger of having a Season Three that will end up like the trashy GOT ending which came about because of a total failure of imagination, lack of humility to seek help in developing story lines and important characters like Missandei and Gray Worm and show runners who were happy to ruin what was previously the most awesome show on television. Cobra Kai, Aisha is your only way back. Bring her back to the show in Season Three and give her the treatment that she deserves. Don’t let mediocrity and tired tropes (really guys, neither Sam nor Tory have to be the romantic interests of focus on this series!) ruin an otherwise fire show.