Ralph Macchio‘s life would never be the same after 1984’s The Karate Kid. Five years and two sequels later, he seemingly stepped away from the franchise for good, other than occasionally revisiting his Daniel LaRusso persona for nostalgia’s sake, like he did on How I Met Your Mother. A few short years ago, his stance changed when he climbed aboard what turned out to be a highly-popular and critically-acclaimed revival series, Cobra Kai, which streamed for two seasons on YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium). Now, the show’s roundhouse-kicking over to Netflix on August 28.
Catch up with those first two batches of episodes while you can (before it reaches an even larger audience) because a release date for more will be coming soon. The show offers the perfect degree of nostalgia while updating the rivalry — Macchio’s LaRusso goes toe-to-toe again with William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence — in a compelling way. The show ends up being a rare success in a sea of mediocre revivals and reboots, and Macchio was kind enough to prep the stage by speaking with us about why he’s so pleased with Cobra Kai and protective of The Karate Kid‘s legacy. We also addressed the biggest lingering issue that hasn’t popped up on the show yet with Macchio giving us insight on what could come in the future.
It’s a good time for Cobra Kai escapism. With the move to Netflix, did you find out before or after Season 3 wrapped?
That was after. We had information that YouTube was shifting out of scripted, and credit goes to Sony Television and YouTube for allowing us to find another home that will hopefully give us another life. And the pandemic arrived in the midst of all that. We spoke to many of the platforms, and it feels like it’s turned out awesome.
With so many revivals and reboots, I did feel skeptical at first, but this show feels organic, and it’s addictive to revisit this story as updated.
Yes, and I’m probably coming off a lot more intelligent than I am, but I did hold out. Listen, I’ve heard many, many pitches over 30-plus years of why we wanna revisit this world, and it never seemed fresh. It was always easier to say no and protect the legacy because I’m very protective of it, and it was never smart enough. This was a smart idea at a time when we have these streaming platforms, these abilities to make these five-hour movies, cut up into 10 half-hour parts. You let the characters breathe, and it doesn’t have to fit inside a 2-hour motion picture sequel that has to be louder, faster, funnier, bigger. [Creators] Jon [Hurwitz], Josh [Heald], and Hayden [Schlossenberg] were the guys that you just believed wanted to make the show that the fans wanted to see because they are the three biggest fans of the franchise. It was about how, tonally, is it going to find its way and embrace nostalgia while being fresh and original? Fortunately, it stayed that way.
The tone manages to stay lighthearted despite confronting some tough issues, which is notable, rather than turning toward a “dark” or “gritty” reboot.
Oh, that’s true. And we’re always finding those “feels” or “goosebump moments” or those nostalgic moments, but as it goes on, and you’ll see soon, you have to raise that bar and keep that young audience involved. It does dig deeper into places and take deeper dives from the action and dramatic standpoints, and they navigate that orchestra quite well and keep that music playing. Keeping everybody interested is quite fascinating to watch and be a part of that process and not always know how it’s gonna land.
Since your movies in this franchise, the Internet has… happened. You’ve even did an oral history of the crane kick. However, what gets under my skin was the end of the first movie when Johnny says, “You’re alright, LaRusso!” Daniel responded positively, but the show hasn’t reconciled this yet with the present?
Well, I can say this much. It hasn’t been addressed, but believe me, that was in every one of the first pitch meetings, it was there. Kreese was the bad teacher to Johnny Lawrence, who was trying to redeem himself in that teen moment. The thing that we discussed, and it’ll be interesting, is that at what point do we actually address that? To date, it hasn’t been directly addressed. How we attribute it — because we’ve discussed it — is that at that moment, yes, once they went back to school and once life began, the 30 years beyond that moment on, the untold story that slowly but surely dribbles out. In Cobra Kai‘s flashbacks or [through conversations], you can kind-of write those 30 years that no one ever saw. So just because that moment happened doesn’t mean that something didn’t happen that sent it to a dark place, and not necessarily an action by LaRusso to Lawrence, but maybe something in Lawrence’s life.
A whole lot has happened to that guy, no doubt.
And also — doesn’t this happen sometimes? — not really defending this as much as offering something about it: there are times that you do something or say something and react in a way, and then you go to sleep and wake up the next morning, and all of a sudden, it’s not feeling that good anymore? And then something else happens, and before you know it, you’re a couple of decades into it, and that moment disappears, and it’s something bigger. Maybe for Johnny Lawrence, that’s what happened over time.
The beginning of The Karate Kid Part II probably didn’t help, when Kreese put Johnny in a headlock.
Right, so the last thing on his mind after that was probably the life that he’s led from that moment forward. But if we get to continue to make that show, it will find its way because they an extraordinary job of finding those pieces, and old clips and even different camera angles, and then you can hinge a plot point based on that. It’s a lot of fun.
Over the years, you’ve revisited Daniel-san at moments, like with How I Met Your Mother. You also did the “Wax On, F*ck Off” sketch for FunnyOrDie. How do you choose where to bring it back?
Yeah, that last one was all me. I was at that moment in 2010 where the remake was coming, and I started seeing at the time, like, Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen, and Sandra Bullock won an Oscar and had a breakup, and that got a ton of press. And I just started thinking that I needed to do the anti-version of what’s sexy in Hollywood, and that’s where “Wax On, F*ck Off” came from. It was all on my terms.
With How I Met Your Mother, that one came from my kids when I initially passed on it, and it was not as well marked out as it came out to be. It was a one-off joke, and then I was kind-of wallpaper throughout the episode, so it wasn’t exciting, and I told my kids that I was gonna pass on it. They were like, “Who do you think you are? How dare you pass on How I Met Your Mother?” Then we did a creative call, and then we found a way that I’d be more of Barney’s worst nightmare, and the Zabka payoff as the clown was fantastic. That one was by committee, and it worked out, and the more I was willing to heighten the cameo, the more willing the writers were to find that. On top of that, so many young kids who watched it then watched The Karate Kid and came up to me and said it was awesome. And now with Cobra Kai, we’re hitting all four quadrants.
It’s really remarkable to see how well this show is connecting with the younger generation.
Well, the kids are just great and wonderful to work with. And the writing staff is writing it fully, and the cast is big, so it’s nice to see that. A big part of the Netflix thing is that we’re in the “young adult” division, believe it or not. That’s the category that this show, and that’s the direction. I think you’ll see more of a push in creating more awareness of these young actors going forward, so it’s not only about these two rivals, these guys in their 50s, trying to not act like teenagers. It’ll be a little of everything.
There’s the idea, of course, presented by the show, that Miguel and Robby might be products of their senseis, like Daniel-san and Johnny. And there’s a huge mess to clean up in Season 3.
Yes. That’s a big part of where Season 2 leaves off and what we address going forward. In Season 2, clearly, both Johnny and Daniel had good intentions and believed in what they were doing, and then things went off the rails. Here’s the thing: just because you have knowledge of something doesn’t mean you know how to teach it on a larger scale. Case in point: LaRusso’s heart was always in the right place, and what he was doing, when other obstacles come in the way, the clarity of that (on Lawrence’s side as well) goes off its axis. There’s a decent amount of recalibrating and “look at what this has become” with the cliffhanger and how they get out of the mess. I can’t talk about it too much but can say that it is fantastic. So there’s my tease.
You gotta tease. People expect it.
The best is yet to come in this series! And I believe in that.
In closing, I gotta talk about that crane kick. Are you surprised that it’s such an iconic moment, all these years later?
If you asked me in 1984 if I’d be having this conversation with you, I’d say, “Yeah, right.” What I call the pop culture debate of it — Was it legal? Who’s the real Karate Kid? — to me, the great fun of that is that people really care! And there’s fandom and arguments and videos made on the concept. The movie belongs to the fans, and it’s become a worldwide piece of our childhood. As far as the crane kick and what it’s become, when I came out of a screening (a preview of seeing it for the first time), a majority of the audience — whether they were 10 or 62 years old — they were out on the sidewalk doing the crane pose to each other. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me, because [it was] like when you leave a Broadway show, and you’re singing that song. That usually says that it has some staying power. But 36 years? That’s incredible.
‘Cobra Kai’ streams on Netflix on August 28 with a Season 3 release date coming soon.