On June 22, 36 years have passed since the release of The Karate Kid, the story of an underdog, who explores a life unfamiliar to him, and who — with the help of a grumpy old man — raises himself up to be a champion. The 1984 film, directed by John Avildsen and written by Robert Kamen, had a lasting influence on the movie experience — future sports films would measure their stories against the tenacity and resolve on display in The Karate Kid, and Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, and William Zabka would enjoy a bright moment in the Hollywood sun.
That sunlight faded after a time, as new heroes rose — mutants and aliens boasting super-human powers — and now, as their sweet summer dims, Macchio and Zabka have been coaxed back into the open to revisit their beloved characters of Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence in YouTube Premium series Cobra Kai, now available on Netflix.
Season 1 was a Certified Fresh hit. All 43 critics that reviewed the season gave it a Fresh rating, landing Cobra Kai — the unlikely streaming TV revival of a slumbering monster film franchise — in our prestigious 100% TV season club. The series also brought back other familiar faces from the original movie, including Martin Kove, who played the Cobra Kai dojo’s original alpha-male sensei Kreese in the film, and heartwarming tributes to the humble handyman and teacher Miyagi, played by Morita, who died in 2005.
With Season 1 and 2 now on Netflix, with a third Cobra Kai season set to premiere in 2021, we sat down with Macchio and Zabka to talk about what got them back to the dojo, and paying homage to Morita.
What follows is a history of Cobra Kai (2018-) and reflection upon the series’ beginnings, drawn from a sit-down interview with Macchio and Zabka.
Ralph Macchio: “I mean, certainly in the earlier years, from the ’80s into the early ’90s, you had all those images of the crane kick, or the lines like, ‘Get him a body bag’ or ‘Sweep the leg.’ ‘Wax on, wax off.’ [The Karate Kid] became part of the American lexicon at some point. But I think the internet, if you will, or the ability for everyone to be able to talk and spread their voice, really is where it amped up to that other level.
And then you have the How I Met Your Mother of it all, which was a show that always teed up from Barney Stinson’s perspective of the real Karate Kid. And then that became this whole pop culture thing, and then other videos made. And that set the stage for, I think, the series Cobra Kai fan base coming to the table all amped up for decades of discussion. And it’s cool that it all collided in such a good big way.”
William Zabka: “Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, the creators of Cobra Kai, emailed me and they said, ‘Let’s have lunch and talk to you about a project that we’re excited about.’ So I said, ‘OK. Where do you want to meet? There’s a Mexican restaurant down the street from my house. Let’s meet there.’
(Photo by YouTube Premium)
So we go in and go and sit at this back table, and the chips come, and they’re telling the waiters to leave, and then it was just spitfire, like the three-headed dragon, just a machine gun of information. Like, ‘OK, so here it is. We’re huge fans of Karate Kid. We love your work. We want to do this. It’s called Cobra Kai. We got the rights of Karate Kid. You’re Johnny Lawrence. You’re like bad sensei, you’re like Walter Matthau in Bad News Bears. You’re gonna be the anti-hero.’ And I was like, ‘What? You can’t just go do this.’
I’ve had a lot of ideas presented. I’ve thought my own self, like, ‘What can I do more in a satire type of way?’ Because I never could imagine getting the rights to do Johnny Lawrence again. And after The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith came out, I felt like it was really all over. Like, ‘It’s moved on.’ … This, it just felt right. And I said, ‘What’s the next step?’ They said, ‘Well, we have to go convince Ralph Macchio.’ I said, ‘OK.’”
Macchio: “They flew to New York. We met down in Tribeca area, and we spent more than a couple hours. They led off with talking about the themes. They were very focused. I could tell they were nervous, but Hayden, he started right away, and says, ‘Bullying.’ I would love to have the footage of their pitch to Billy, to convince him, and their pitch to me, because they were different. They didn’t start off saying, ‘We want to do the Johnny Lawrence story about Cobra Kai and make him the hero of the story.’ They started talking about themes, so credit them. They did a great job. They were also very well-versed in what they wanted to do, the angle. And they did tell me the title of the show. They weren’t trying to say, ‘Oh, it’s not gonna be that.’ I knew what it was.
My biggest question was they were pitching it as a comedy. I said, ‘Well, where’s the funny? What’s the tone?’ That was the main question, and where’s the Miyagi-isms, and how is that going to be woven into it? Because if it’s not, then I’m not interested. I need for it to have balance, if you will, across the board of the Karate Kid universe, even though the angle in from the Johnny Lawrence story is super smart.
(Photo by YouTube Premium)
I felt that they were the guys. I knew from Hot Tub Time Machine and Harold and Kumar that they knew [the humor]. I believed they could write for a young generation and humor and great teen dialogue, which I felt was really important for the show to have that. That’s really shedding light in going to season 2 and beyond, because we have this great young cast. I needed to digest it all, but I believed that they were the guys. They wanted to make the show the fans wanted to see, because they were those kids.
And then timing: 15 [or] 10 years ago there was no YouTube or Netflix, or a place where you could take a five, six-hour movie and cut it up into parts. We shoot this show and each season is like a full-on movie that you just cut up. You allow the characters to breathe and delve into gray areas, and it’s not just so black-and-white and leading to one big quick climax two hours later. All those things together got me to the place of saying, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ But not without me closing my eyes, holding my breath, and saying, ‘Oh, crap, I hope this works.’ Now we seem like the two smartest guys in the world.”
Zabka: “My first scene was with Ed Asner, so how’s that for day 1 on a show: working with a legend? It’s the scene when I walk in and Ed Asner’s in my refrigerator. So they just started me at full speed, and it was great, and he was great — I mean really great. What an honor. It felt like he kissed the show in a way, and he blessed it in a way, by his presence being there. It just felt like wow, we’re way up here.”
(Photo by YouTube Premium)
Macchio: “Our first scene together is still one of my favorites in the Cobra Kai series. The first scene I shot was at the end of episode 2, where LaRusso comes into the Cobra Kai dojo and it’s a little stare-down, and they question each other, and it just sets up the entire series. That scene was magic, man. We worked together in a film 30-plus years ago, and we’ve been friends for years. But that level of chemistry that we have, I didn’t know that it was there at the level that it’s now turned out to be. It’s just a reminder that this project, be it The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai, has some element that the bar just gets raised and we deliver. I’m proud of it.”
Zabka: “We hadn’t done this for 35-some years now, right? And all of sudden, he walks in and it was just on, and everything else was gone, and it was these two characters exist again in this setting. We walked away. We’re like, ‘Wow, there’s something really happening.’”
Macchio: “All the time, I think about Pat and his performance. Listen, we’re not making the show without Pat Morita’s performance as Mr. Miyagi, because that’s one of the things that elevated that film to what it is today. They’re big shoes to fill. I mean, LaRusso has a line like that early in season 2 — he looks at a picture of Miyagi and says, ‘Boy, I’ve got big shoes to fill.’
He learns very soon that just because you have knowledge of a subject doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach it. And Mr. Miyagi was a magical type character who had a special touch, and LaRusso is learning that he might not have that — or he has to find his own.
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Shooting a poignant Miyagi-influenced scene on @cobrakaiseries… then, moments later a surprise visit from Pat Morita’s daughter, Aly makes this one of the most memorable days on the show. All the feels from above and beyond. Another stroke of Miyagi Magic graces the day. Thanks, Aly 🙂 And as always, thank you, Pat. ??
They’ve rebuilt the Miyagi house and the backyard, and it’s a big set piece throughout the second season. Day one of shooting there was very nostalgic for me and quite emotional for a few reasons. One, the years have gone by, and that’s not my life anymore, but yet it’s a part of who I am by being associated and connected to the film. Now I’m the old guy trying to shed light on the young students. It’s warm and wonderful and bittersweet. Pat would’ve loved this. He would’ve been — what a cheerleader. We miss him. His daughter came to visit one day and surprised me on set. We were doing a scene in episode four of season 2, and it was a scene that had a little Miyagi magic element to it. His daughter Aly came on the set, and we took a picture together. I put it on Instagram, probably has the most views of anything I’ve ever put up. It was nice to share that moment.”
Zabka: “The way we went into it [with the Kove character] was this dysfunctional father/son relationship, mentor/student. But now Johnny’s not a kid anymore, he’s a sensei, so it was more seeing eye to eye, toe to toe. That first moment when he walks into the dojo in a similar way with Ralph and I, when he walked into the dojo, it was a different type of electricity that happened. And he’s evoking all this negative emotion out of me, and he’s the guy that tried to kill me in the parking lot, and he trained me, and all these things.
(Photo by YouTube Premium)
There’s a lot of conflict going on in Johnny, and there he is, really, the king cobra stepping into Johnny’s Cobra Kai. There’s a lot going on. Marty’s great, and it was like two dogs scrapping in a park and just getting it out. It’s an emotional fight, it’s not just a physical fight, and that’s great.”
Zabka: “The creators always say there’s a whole canon of Karate Kid that can be drawn from for any time. Whoever’s right for the moment that’s honest in this show we’re excited about.”
Macchio: “As long as it works organically into the story. In season 1, I had Randee Heller, who plays LaRusso’s mom. It’s wonderful to have her back, and it’s a big embrace from the fans that see that. And there’s some other [cameos from film cast members] in season 2 and beyond, we hope.”
Cobra Kai seasons 1 and 2 are now available on Netflix. Season 3 will arrive on the streaming service in 2021.
Few films have left their mark on the popular culture the way that 1984’s The Karate Kid has. Even kids who didn’t rush to see it in theaters in June of that year, or didn’t grow up wearing down the tape on their VHS copy of the film, can recite the movie’s most famous lines – “Sweep the leg!” – and recall its most indelible images. But more than iconic one-liners and memorable fights, what sticks with us about The Karate Kid are its key relationships, namely those between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and mentor Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita) and Daniel and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka).
So fierce and so memorable was the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny that more than three decades after the first Karate Kid movie was released, YouTube Originals re-ignited it for the streaming series Cobra Kai, the second season of which has just dropped online. Except now the tables had turned, and one-time-bully Johnny was the sympathetic anti-hero.
As we gear up for another round with Daniel and Johnny – and if their coy responses to our questions indicate, a potential slew of cameos from fans’ favorite characters – we sat down with Macchio and Zabka to go back to the beginning. In this oral history of The Karate Kid, the two men recall the time they met as kids, their pre-Karate Kid experience with martial arts (“I had no technique, I had no idea”), working with Pat Morita, and the impact the movie would have on their teen years and their lives. From audition to their climactic on-screen showdown, this is Macchio and Zabka’s story of the time they became the world’s most famous karate kids.
What follows is a history of The Karate Kid (1984) and reflection upon the film, drawn from a sit-down interview with Macchio and Zabka.
Ralph Macchio: “When I was about 10 or so, for Christmas I got a certificate for the local jiu-jitsu school of self defense — obviously, mom and dad said, ‘We gotta help this guy out a little bit,’ I don’t know — for me and my brother. So we went, and I took a handful of lessons. I liked it.”
William Zabka: “My relationship with karate before Karate Kid was all in my imagination. As a kid growing up, I would just run around and do fake fights, and I’d be in the backyard with sticks, but I had no technique, I had no idea. I took no classes before Karate Kid. I was a wrestler in high school, so I was limber, and I had a lot of conditioning, so I was prepared to learn the training for karate, and martial arts but I didn’t know any real [moves]. It was all in my mind. As a kid, you’re jumping around and fighting imaginary bad guys, you know?”
Macchio: “My first conversation about being Daniel LaRusso was with our director John Avildsen, who I auditioned for, and … it’s the first time ever I ever read the words to that character. It’s Avildsen explaining the character, explaining what he’s going through, explaining the story leading up to my audition scene, which was the scene from the film where Daniel wakes up after the skeleton fight at the fence and Miyagi saves the day, and he’s asking all these questions.
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
That’s my earliest memory of the character. I didn’t have the part yet, but I did remember John Avildsen saying to me, ‘I can’t guarantee you anything right now, but if I were you, I’d take some karate lessons.’ Which doesn’t often happen. That was a pretty exciting moment. And then a couple more hoops to jump through, and here I am, I got to be Daniel LaRusso.”
Zabka: “Through my manager, I got a phone call to come in, they want to talk to you. So I went to Columbia Pictures at that time, and drove through the gate and went to a bungalow. I just came directly from the gym, and I was in my tank top, probably wearing a headband or something. I went in and they said, ‘There’s this movie called Karate Kid. We think you’d be great for this part of Johnny. Go home and read it, and come back and audition tomorrow for John Avildsen.’
So I went home and read the script, and Johnny’s this karate master and he’s a motorcycle gang leader. He’s the bad guy. I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t know karate. I don’t know how ride motorcycles.’ But there was one scene in the script that I really connected to, and somehow I just connected to the character. I ran it through in my living room a bunch of times, and then the next day went and met John Avildsen. He was sitting in a chair. He had his camera. He always had his video camera filming everything. And it was a scene cut out of the movie, where I hand Daniel a death certificate at the water fountain. And he said, ‘What’s this for?’ And I go, ‘You gotta get your mommy to sign it so you could be in the tournament with the big boys.’ And he says, ‘I thought it was supposed to be no contact.’ And I say, ‘Accidents happen.’
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
And then I walk away, and he goes, ‘Hey, you think he might be wrong?’ And I go, ‘Who?’ And he goes, ‘Your instructor, your sensei, you think he might be wrong?’ And then my line is, ‘Watch your mouth, asshole.’ So on that line, that’s when I walked over to John Avildsen and grabbed him — which you don’t do — and I said, ‘Watch your mouth, asshole.’ And I pushed him back, and the room was still. And that’s where the scene was supposed to end, but everybody was still watching me, so I improv’d and went to the door. I said, ‘Read it and weep. I’ll see you in the tournament.’ And went out in the waiting room, and came in, took my headband off, which I was wearing, and I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. That was Johnny. I’m Billy.’ He goes, ‘So how old are you?’ He got kind of interested, and he goes, ‘You’re a little taller than our karate kid.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, well, Bruce Lee was smaller than Kareem Abdul Jabbar.’ He goes, ‘Well, you got a point. All right, thanks, kid.’ And that was that.”
Macchio: “[Zabka and I] trained differently. We both trained with Pat Johnson, who did all the fight choreography. He’s the referee in The Karate Kid film. He would train myself and Pat Morita in a classic Okinawan style, and he would train Billy and the Cobra Kai guys in a more aggressive style of martial arts. Most of the scenes we did together we were either yelling at each other or I was getting my ass kicked. So we were friendly, but we weren’t [best friends]. I had the whole Miyagi side of the story, and the romance side of the story. The movie was always in three sections for me. We’ve become closer friends over the years and certainly when Pat passed away we became closer friends just through the loss of him and moving forward, and the fact that this film has stood the test of time. It’s a big part of not only American cinema, but also pop culture. And then here we are back again in tandem. So it’s been quite a journey.”
Zabka: “My memory of working with Ralph was we were best friends instantly. I’m surprised to hear you say that we were separated. We have to talk after this.
I think John Avildsen really created the chemistry by casting all the right people for this. He cast the right Tommy, Bobby, Dutch, and Jimmy. … It was almost like he created this little universe for us. We hung around all the time. We went to lunch every day. We rode motorcycles together, we trained together. We really got into a pack mentality. Ralph and I did our fight scene for the tournament every day we could for three months, so we were working together constantly. I mean, feet and fists were flying, so we had to take care of each other in that way. But the Cobra Kais, they were like my brothers, and they still are in real life.”
Macchio: “Ali with an ‘i.’ That character is arguably what starts the rivalry, the feud, if you will. Like all good wars, a beautiful woman, and that’s the end of that. [Elisabeth Shue] was just coming out of the gate at that point. And John Avildsen would see me and Lisa — Lisa Shue was what we called her — and he would say, ‘You two have no place being together. It’s like a strawberry shortcake and a cannoli.’ That’s how he described LaRusso and Ali Mills. It was fun. It was the birth of those young characters, young love, high school, adolescence, all that stuff.”
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Zabka: “We got along great. She was tough, she was athletic, she was a soccer player. Really physical, and she was just an all-natural girl and beautiful and cool, and we became friends. The only time I got connected in the whole movie with a punch or a kick [was during] the country club scene where Daniel comes in and gets the spaghetti on him, and then I laugh and Lisa punches me in the jaw. Every single time she connected, like, boom. Pat Johnson’s like, ‘No, step back and swing.’ But I think every single time she hit my jaw. In fact, when Daniel falls down in the spaghetti and I’m laughing, I’m half laughing at the fact that she just hit me. Yeah, she was great.”
Macchio: “I mean, with Pat Morita, everything he brought — I was truly witnessing the right actor in the right role, never taking it for granted, feeling a great responsibility, meaning him feeling a great responsibility playing a Japanese-American in that film at that time. And I always bring this information to the table, that The Karate Kid is the first mainstream major motion picture that ever dealt with the World War II Japanese internment camps.
The movie is so often thought of as pop culture, ‘Get him a body bag,’ crane kicks, waxing on, and catching flies with chopsticks, but it also has all these other deeper elements to it, which is why it’s, in my view, a great film. What he taught me more than anything is not to take things for granted, to revel in the opportunity that you have.
There was an ease of working with him in those scenes. There’s something relaxed about it. He would talk to John Avildsen or myself about the headband, which was called the hachimaki. Using that, taking it out of his pocket [to] use it as a napkin, or a handkerchief to wipe [your brow], but then you’d also wear it, and then we’d put it on for training purposes. Daniel always wore it for that.
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
All those moments and experiencing him teaching us [about] that culture, and wanting to pay homage and respect to the Japanese-American culture — Okinawan in this case — taught me that those moments of ease that we had just fed into the chemistry that we had that I didn’t even know we had. It wasn’t like I was trying to have good chemistry with Pat Morita, or he was really trying hard to be a good actor with me. It just organically was that way. And what I learned from that is when that just happens organically, it usually will translate. It just is one of those meant-to-be partnerships that was really special — something I’ll have forever, and that we’ll all have forever. It’s really sweet, and I’m the lucky one. That’s how I look at it.”
Zabka: “I meet Martin Kove in character as Kreese. So I never met the actor Martin Kove. ‘Hi, I’m Martin. I’m playing your sensei.’ That was deliberate. Pat Johnson, who trained us for all the fight stuff, before Martin was cast, he played Kreese. And he trained me as Kreese, and he would be super intense and in your face and louder and bigger than even Marty was. He put the imprint of who Kreese was on me. And then when Martin Kove came in, it was in the dojo scene. …He came in character with a black belt on. For all I knew, he was the real deal.
The scene where Ralph walks into the dojo, and I whisper to him that somebody’s here, I mean, you could see that they had more of a relationship than just sensei. There was a personal relationship that happened, that’s continuing now. But then when he says, ‘Sweep the leg.’ That moment, it was Marty Kove that caused that reaction in me, which was just to check him out. I mean, he was so intense and so big. A good actor’s going to draw out the best from you. So he filled the shoes and sucked it out of me. And only now [do] I know Marty. I think if I knew him as I know him now, then, I might’ve laughed in his face. No, I’m just kidding. Just kidding, Marty!”
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Macchio: “It was about a week we shot the All Valley Tournament. I remember it vividly. We spent part of the entire shoot, say, three months, just rehearsing those fight sequences and our final fight. It was like a ballet. I mean, it really was. We were trained so well. We’d be further apart. And as we’d get better and better, we had the pads on. And then we slowly but surely got closer and closer.
There weren’t a lot of changes. Some last minute, ‘Oh, we need this to be a little this,’ but for the most part it was like a dance routine, and we had it down. It was a great moment for me, because I win. The character wins the fight. For Billy, his character loses the fight. But for us to perform that the first time, six cameras, John Avildsen, who had directed Rocky, among others. You were in the hands of the best. And we filled up the arena with the extras, and they saw it for the first time. And we did it for the first time in front of a crowd, and that is a big part of the base, the spine, of what that scene is. I mean, there’s all the other cuts. We got back and got pieces, but that was an amazing experience, just that. You could run into trouble with the amount of adrenaline, because you’re just so jacked up, but we were so well-trained. It was a tango, and it was awesome.”
(Photo by ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Zabka: “It was electric. It changed from the rehearsals, where we were at one energy, to step … It’s like doing theater, I guess. You step out and there’s the audience, and it just brings you up to a whole other place that you didn’t expect to happen. So I remember doing it. I think we did the whole fight … I don’t remember shooting in blocks. We went from the beginning of the fight to the end of the fight. Like, the whole thing. It wasn’t like, ‘OK, here’s this kick. Here’s that piece.’ I mean, we went out and performed this whole fight. In the breaks, I remember when they would say, ‘Cut.’ And there was a scene where Pat Johnson says, ‘Take a knee.’ Because he’s hurt. And I’m sitting there, and the cameras were cut for a moment, and I can look up and see the fans. They’re like, ‘Boo, boo.’ And my mom was sitting in the audience, and she’s like, ‘my baby!’ And I’m like, ‘It’s OK, mom. It’s OK. I’m acting.’ Yeah, but it was awesome. The fans, the people, the energy.
There were actually some real martial artists there, real karate schools, and a real mini tournament happening in the background to make it look authentic. There’s kids in pads sparring and all that. They had an actual tournament that day. It’s kind of like a fake one, but real. They had real kids sparring with each other in the background. So the environment was authentic to what a real karate tournament would’ve been like, and then we step out with our black belts. I remember walking out with my black belt, going, ‘I’m such a fraud right now. If they only knew.’ I’m walking in, and then they’re like, ‘Who’s that kid?’ I’m, like, the actor that has done this for three months, and I hope I don’t kick Ralph.”
Macchio: “‘You’re the Best Around’ was, I think, a Rocky 3 reject. … Bill Conti did the score for both Rocky and The Karate Kid — spectacular, the underscoring. But I think that was a song that didn’t make it into an earlier film. It might’ve been from the first Rocky.
What I didn’t know was the music when Daniel is training in the water, trying to stand on one leg and the waves are pummeling him, I remember that day. Bill Conti was on set on the beach, and he was playing for Avildsen the type of classical music he was thinking of. And so I got a glimpse of that, which helps, because then when you’re doing the scene, you envision the sound of it, because the score is a big component in storytelling.”
Zabka: “Originally [the film ended with] the scene where Kreese chokes me out and Miyagi saves all of us. And then lights were out after we finished the tournament and John Avildsen said, ‘I got my movie. We don’t need to shoot it.’ And I guess called Jerry Weintraub, and said, ‘I don’t think we need to shoot that scene.’ He goes, ‘Alright, go home.’”
Macchio: “What’s interesting is at that point, I think, if memory serves— and it does get foggy after decades and decades — but I believe at that point, they said, ‘Listen, if we ever do one, we can always open a sequel with that scene.’ And I don’t know why, but in my head, I remember hearing those words from, whether it was Avildsen, or Weintraub, that their thought was … they were ahead of the game as far as starting the sequel, assuming we were going to have a hit.”
The Karate Kid was released in theaters June 22, 1984
As the tensions between James “Ghost” St. Patrick, Tommy Egan, and Kanan Stark grow, Tasha St. Patrick (Naturi Naughton) needs a confidant more than ever. In episode 507 of Power, “The Devil Inside,” Tasha’s desperation and true plans for Terry (Brandon Victor Dixon) are revealed. Terry Silver shows his true colors when he is torn between his love for Tasha and his loyalty to the law.
About season 5:
The new season finds Ghost in a dangerous alliance with his former drug partner and brother-in-arms Tommy and mortal enemy Kanan. As Ghost mourns the death of his daughter Raina, he searches for vengeance and throws himself into his work, reaching new, professional heights. But with this newfound publicity, his quest for blood threatens to dismantle his legitimate legacy. Ghost is blind to new enemies and, as the Feds grow closer to unmasking his true identity, Ghost must remain vigilant toward those wanting to take him down for his past criminal enterprises.
Tomatometer: Power is currently Fresh at 72% on the Tomatometer.
Power airs Sundays on Starz.
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The long of it: In 2017 alone, 487 scripted original series aired on television or streaming services.That’s a 69% increase from 2012 to 2017, according to tracking done by FX Networks Research. At the rate new TV is being made, 2018 should out-pace every other year with more than 500 original series airing.
The short of it: There’s a lot of TV. And though some of it is clutter, there is also more outstanding television being made than ever before.
As the Television Academy gears up to name the nominees for the 2018 Emmy Awards, recognizing excellence in an ever-more-populated field, there’s a heck of a lot more excellence out there than there ever was.
That’s why it seems like your Netflix queue is ever-growing, and it’s also why, come July 12, you should not be surprised if your favorite TV show doesn’t get a nod. There’s simply too much good TV out there to recognize it all. There are plenty of TV staples that will get recognized when the nominations are revealed (ahem, Game of Thrones), but Rotten Tomatoes’ TV team humbly suggests voters (and non-voters alike) also take a look at these exceptional, new, and heretofore overlooked-by-the-Emmys titles. And while some of the actors in these series may get a nod for their work, the series themselves probably won’t get nominated, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less deserving.
Who Stars In It: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Jimmy Tatro
What’s It’s About: A mockumentary in the style of docuseries like Making a Murderer, the show sees Peter Maldonado (Alvarez) trying to solve a case of vandalism in the teacher’s parking lot. The school expelled Dylan Maxwell (Tatro) for drawing penises on the cars, but Peter thinks Dylan’s been framed.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: First of all, just making a mockumentary with the gravitas of Making a Murderer over such an immature act is hilarious. But just like Dylan’s alleged crime, there’s more under the surface of American Vandal. Creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda have crafted a genuine mystery that keeps you guessing in each of its eight episodes. By the end, you’re truly invested in who drew the dirty pictures and feel emotionally attached to the characters involved. Now that’s some Emmy-worthy dramedy. – Fred Topel
Who Stars In It: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins
What It’s About: Bojack Horseman (Arnett) was a washed-up sitcom star in Hollywoo, a world of humans and anthropomorphized animals mixed together. He’s managed to get taken seriously as an actor by playing Secretariat in a movie. His agent, the cat Princess Caroline (Sedaris), is trying to start a family while she manages Bojack’s crises. His rival, the dog Mr. Peanutbutter (Tompkins), is in a relationship with his biographer, the human Diane (Brie), and Bojack’s former roommate Todd (Paul) is is exploring his asexuality.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: If it were only a brilliant animated spoof of Hollywood, Bojack Horseman would already be up there with The Simpsons and South Park; however, there’s real drama in the animated series — and using animation, Bojack can tackle stories that live-action never could. The best example is its season 3 episode, “Fish out of Water,” which takes place entirely underwater with no dialogue. Season 4 had a strong contender in “Time’s Arrow,” which delves into the dementia-addled memory of Bojack’s mother (Wendie Malick), who is searching for her beloved Henrietta (whose face is scratched out of all the animation). It’s profound, heartbreaking stuff.
Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg believes making the characters animals made some of the more somber material palatable. “I think if we were a live-action show, people might feel like this is a little too much, this is a little saccharine or a little too oppressive,” Bob-Waksberg told Rotten Tomatoes. “Because it’s this goofy horse face saying these words, it claws a new way in.” – Fred Topel
Who Stars In It: Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Mary Mouser, Xolo Mariduena, Nichole Brown
What It’s About: This show revisits the main characters of The Karate Kid 30 years later, but from the perspective of high school bully Johnny Lawrence (Zabka). Losing the All Valley Karate tournament sent his life on a downward spiral, so he believes re-opening the old Cobra Kai dojo will give him purpose again. Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) is his nemesis, since karate’s been so good to him, Danielsan still trades off of his karate victory as a local hero and auto-sales tycoon.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: The idea of a Karate Kid reunion seemed at best like nostalgia and at worst like a joke. The fact that Cobra Kai is a genuinely good drama despite those expectations is a victory worthy of Daniel’s crane kick. Zabka and Macchio both get to play heavy drama about falling back into childish patterns. The younger characters tell a powerful Karate Kid story for teens of the social media generation. The bullied can so easily become bullies themselves, and women still have a lot of fight ahead of them in the worlds of sports, school, and love. Daniel’s daughter Samantha (Mouser) and Johnny’s students Miguel (Mariduena) and Aisha (Brown) could easily carry this series once the original Karate Kids retire. – Fred Topel
Who Stars In It: J.K. Simmons, Nazanin Boniadi, Harry Lloyd, Olivia Williams
What It’s About: The best of espionage and science fiction converge in this complicated and well thought-out freshman drama in which Howard Silk, a lowly cog in a quasi-governmental bureaucratic spy machine, discovers his organization guards the gateway to a parallel world.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: The premise of creator Justin Marks’ Starz drama is so complex it’s actually quite simple: J.K. Simmons is Patty Duking it as the mild-mannered government desk warmer Howard Silk and his considerably more Alpha “counterpart” who has recently crossed over from the unknown-to-Howard other dimension to warn that there’s a mole in the operation. A heavy rotation of scenery-chewing supporting cast members (some of whom are also, naturally, playing dual parts) add to this paranoid universe of cover-ups, germ warfare, spy chases, and double agents, which would be all the makings for a must-watch prestige drama if Counterpart were on a broadcast or basic cable channel. – Whitney Friedlander
Who Stars In It: Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Delroy Lindo, Sarah Steele, Audra McDonald, Justin Bartha
What It’s About: A continuation of The Good Wife featuring Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart, the series follows an on-the-verge-of-retirement Diane as she loses her life savings and goes back to work at a new, all-black law firm.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: The Good Fight feels a lot like The Good Wife in all the best ways. It’s an eclectic ensemble with Baranski at the center and a rotating lineup of delightful guest stars. Season 2 has tackled liberal frustration with the Trump Administration (episodes are named after how many days the Celebrity Apprentice star has been in office) in a funny yet all-too-real way, along with everything from the serious (racially motivated police violence) to the silly (microdosing on mushrooms) with some smartly deployed F-bombs, too. This is streaming, after all. — Jean Bentley
Who Stars In It: Gina Rodriguez, Andrea Navedo, Yael Grobglas, Justin Baldoni, Jaime Camil, Ivonne Coll
What It’s About: A rom-com about an accidentally artificially inseminated millennial that’s both feminist and funny.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: For all the hoopla surrounding NBC’s This is Us – it’s multi-generational and sometimes super sad! – the thing people seem to be missing most about that show is that it’s frankly not that good once they get past their own empathetic crying. Instead, please consider CW’s Jane the Virgin. Creator Jennie Snyder Urman’s telenovela has all of the above, but it also doesn’t take itself that seriously when handling substantial topics like parental abandonment, moving on after loss, and career reinvention. Just here for the stunt casting and Twitter-friendly cliffhangers? Brooke Shields cameoed this season as a Hollywood A-lister named River Fields and guest star Rosario Dawson’s JR accidentally shot someone in the finale — prompting those of us at home to ponder #JRShotWho?, until next season. – Whitney Friedlander
Who Stars In It: Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, Todd Grinnell, Stephen Tobolowsky
What It’s About: Three generations of a Cuban-American family are living together in Los Angeles under one roof: recently divorced military vet single mom Penelope (Machado), Penelope’s old-school mother, Lydia (Moreno), and her tween son and teen daughter, Alex (Ruiz) and Elena (Gomez).
Why It Deserves an Emmy: Roseanne might have gotten the ax, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any more multi-camera sitcoms deftly tackling the plight of working-class Americans. The re-imagining of Norman Lear’s classic addresses plenty of hot-button political issues (with stellar performances by Moreno, Gomez, and Machado, in particular), but, more importantly, it’s a show about a family that truly loves each other. Isn’t heart what 2018 needs most of all? — Jean Bentley
Who Stars In It: Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Shazad Latif, Michelle Yeoh
What It’s About: The Star Trek universe returns to TV in a prequel to the Original Series. Martin-Green plays disgraced Starfleet officer Michael Burnham, the adopted sister to franchise favorite character Spock.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: With outstanding performances by a talented ensemble cast, singling out any one of them with an Emmy nod may seem as daunting as facing down a Klingon Bird-of-Prey in an away shuttle. The series, however, takes its drama seriously, enveloping viewers in a believably treacherous world that pays homage to earlier Star Trek TV efforts, while surpassing them with film franchise–quality effects and standout performance by Isaacs as the troubled Captain Gabriel Lorca. — Debbie Day
Who Stars In It: Jared Harris, Ciarán Hinds, Tobias Menzies, Paul Ready, Adam Nagaitis, Ian Hart, Nive Nielsen
What It’s About: A fictionalized account of a Royal Navy voyage to the Arctic in the 1840s offers a supernatural explanation for the disappearance of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to find the Northwest Passage.
Why It Deserves an Emmy: Performances by Harris, Hinds, Menzies, and supporting players Ready, Hart, Nagaitis, and more provide a solid dramatic base for a harrowing adventure tale that transforms into a haunting horror story. The lavish event series, from showrunners David Kajganich (screenwriter of buzzy fall horror film remake Suspiria) and Soo Hugh, delivers award-worthy chills. — Debbie Day
When The X-Files returned to Fox in January 2016, fans were apprehensive. Would the revival hold up over time? Could it make up for the original iteration’s lackluster ninth season?
Alas, not all reboots and revivals are created equal. While NBC’s season 9 revival of Will & Grace is Certified Fresh at 86% on the Tomatometer, the CW’s new take on Dynasty fell flat with a 53% Tomatometer score.
On the flip side, some titles like streaming series Cobra Kai, a sequel to the famous Karate Kid films, become big hits. The YouTube Red show premiered May 2 and has maintained a 100% score to land in the top spot of our scorecard of shows based on previous titles that returned from the dead.
When their mom dies, two sisters from the eastside of Los Angeles return home and face a surprising truth about their mother’s identity that could push them further apart. Learn more about Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada) in a featurette about new series Vida.
About the series:
Half-hour drama series focuses on two Mexican-American sisters who couldn’t be more different or distanced from each other. Circumstances force them to return to their old neighborhood in East L.A., where they confront the past and a big family secret.
Tomatometer: Currently 100% with 11 reviews.
Vida premieres on Starz on Sunday, May 6.
For Ralph Macchio, returning to the part of Daniel LaRusso — the part he played in three Karate Kid movies from 1984–1989 — was not an easy decision. He even turned down opportunities to return to the role following the release of 1989’s The Karate Kid Part III. But with YouTube Red’s new Cobra Kai series (now Fresh at 100% on the Tomatometer), he finally picks up Daniel’s story some 30 years later. Key to his decision to return was the new streaming series format.
“You can tell these stories like long movies just broken up into say 10 parts,” he recently told Rotten Tomatoes. “In our case, it’s a great narrative way to not have to compete with Iron Man, Batman, and Star Wars.”
As those film franchises are predicated, to some extent, on the nostalgia factor, Macchio noted the interest in 1980s nostalgia also became a factor in coming back.
“If you can do it in a way that is relevant for today and bring in that young audience, as well as the nostalgia, I think you can have a win-win,” he explained.
The series, which sees Daniel running a string of successful car dealerships in the San Fernando Valley while old nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) reopens the Cobra Kai dojo, balances the nostalgia with a new set of younger characters, a plan devised by executive producers Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald.
“They had really fresh, passionate, unique, and well-thought-out take on it,” Macchio said.
Zabka, whose Johnny Lawrence hits a run of bad luck as the series begins, said that both he and Macchio felt protective of the characters they played in the original film and wanted to make sure Cobra Kai felt “like a true continuation of that story.”
“They pitched the show to me and it sounded awesome, the way they were going to approach it,” Zabka said. “They assured me all along the way of what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. They’re huge fans of the franchise, and they’re extremely talented. I trusted them, and they delivered.”
Macchio added: “They were the guys that were the kids in the movie theater in the ’80s, that saw this movie a zillion times, and watched it on VHS til it wore out. It just seemed in the right hands. I thought it was a smart and fresh angle into the world.”
— Cobra Kai (@CobraKaiSeries) April 21, 2018
Part of that fresh angle was finding Daniel not only successful, but living in an affluent part of the Valley economically far from Reseda and facing mid-life issues Daniel never would’ve dreamed about in the ’80s. Macchio said he smiled when the executive producers first pitched the idea to him. Running the car dealerships, in particular, seemed like a natural extension of waxing Mr. Miyagi’s classic car collection in the original film. Daniel also received a beautiful 1947 Ford convertible from Miyagi for his 16th birthday, so to Macchio, “it wasn’t so out of the realm of possibility that maybe a successful auto dealership might be a place that he would wind up.”
Meanwhile, Johnny finds himself 30 years on living in an apartment very similar to Daniel’s in The Karate Kid and working as a freelance contractor and handyman — a mirror of the occupation Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) held in the original film. But unlike the seeming contentment that work brought Miyagi, Johnny faces a number of other issues from rough clients, a broken family, and his own spiraling sense of self-worth. And though it seems Johnny blames a lot of his problems on losing the 1984 All-Valley tournament, Zabka believes the character is not stuck in a high-school mindset.
“The tournament is not the theme of his life, it’s just one thorn in his side that altered his course, and there are many other complications and details going on around it,” he explained. “He’s dealing with adult issues, but he’s resisted change for sure.”
Johnny Lawrence here, and it’s time I took the wheel. Follow along as I tell you what it takes to be a badass sensei and share your own badass moments using #BadassTakeover. pic.twitter.com/l66wPKyEbk
— Cobra Kai (@CobraKaiSeries) April 23, 2018
Part of that resistance is listening to old tunes while cruising the Valley in a vintage — if somewhat disheveled — 1980s Camero.
“He’s an analog man in a digital world,” he continued. “There’s something refreshing about a time when everybody wasn’t on their ‘iComputers,’ as Johnny calls them, and we weren’t so connected. There’s a little bit of autonomy that Johnny’s preserved.”
Though he admitted that Johnny is somewhat stuck in his ways, he thought it was “refreshing” to play someone whose maintained that sense of self across the coming of the Internet and social media.
And as Johnny holds onto that analog sensibility, it eventually leads him to reopen Cobra Kai and revisit the lessons he learned from John Creese (Martin Kove). While it quickly gives him a renewed purpose, it sets Daniel’s world “off its axis,” according to Macchio.
“It’s kind of like walking into the Death Star,” Macchio said of the moment in the Rotten Tomatoes TV sneak peek above when Daniel walks into the new dojo. “He just remembers taking a beating his whole adolescence and what that form of karate is, versus what he has learned through Mr. Miyagi.”
Despite overcoming those challenges and facing opponents like Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) in The Karate Kid Part II and Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) in The Karate Kid Part III, Macchio said Daniel makes a startling discovery about Cobra Kai: “It is the kryptonite for Daniel LaRusso.”
The fact that the two characters would reconnect 30 years later and immediately resume a rivalry both thought long buried was always part of the pitch for Cobra Kai.
“Johnny doesn’t really work without Daniel in this universe,” Zabka explained. “Really, Daniel doesn’t work without Johnny. If he didn’t run into Johnny, who knows what he’d be doing? He’d be working with his mom at the restaurant.
“Both of these people affected each other’s lives, positively or negatively,” he continued. “Like it or not, there are events that happen in our lives that affect us and alter our course.”
And in this latest alteration of their shared course, it no longer clear who the hero might be.
“They’re dual protagonists and dual antagonists,” Macchio said, “which is kind of refreshing and challenging.”
Added Zabka: “I think this show gets really, really layered and leveled, in the humanity of [Johnny] and all the characters. What’s really amazing is that [The Karate Kid] has breathed so much and kind of evolved that a show like this could be made and we could explore another side of it.”
Zabka firmly believes the series will reshape the way people perceive The Karate Kid and the conflict between Johnny and Daniel. At the same time, he also thinks a new viewer could come fresh to the show and find things to enjoy.
“If you’re not a Karate Kid fan, if you’ve never seen the movie, you’re going to love Cobra Kai regardless.”
Macchio agreed. While the early episodes reestablish the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny, the series will give Daniel’s kids and Johnny’s students plenty of focus.
“It really blossoms and becomes a world of relevance for how bullying is dealt with in 2018,” Macchio explained.
Though that theme of bullying was a big part of The Karate Kid films, Cobra Kai will talk about the way it becomes a more complex issue with the arrival of social media.
“Daniel LaRusso would come home with a black eye, you knew what was going on,” Macchio said. “When [his daughter] Samantha maybe comes home, or [Johnny’s student] Miguel or some of these other characters that you’ll see, you can’t quite tell what’s going on because you can’t see it. We deal with that in a subversive way.”
The series will also continue to use the world of the original films as a place to draw from, though neither Macchio nor Zabka would say if Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), the main villain of The Karate Kid Part III and apparent owner of the Cobra Kai name, will ever come to the Valley and deal with Johnny.
“There’s a groundswell of that even on Twitter right now,” Macchio said. “People are asking ‘Is Terry Silver coming back?’ This is great stuff, because we have so many places to draw from and revisit story. Hopefully we’ll be doing this for seasons to come.”
“That’s a way to go,” added Zabka. “There are many ways to go with it, and we shall see.”
Cobra Kai is now streaming on YouTube Red.
Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) surprises down-on-his-luck Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) at the infamous Cobra Kai karate dojo, which Johnny has just reopened. Now a successful business owner, Daniel reignites their old rivalry by threatening his former nemesis.
Cobra Kai premieres on YouTube Red on Wednesday, May 2.