Cobra Kai Kicks Lost in Space’s Ass!

Monday , 7, May 2018 6 Comments

Lost in Space, Netflix’s revamp of the classic SF TV series, is so abysmally bad that there’s no end to the possible critiques one could lodge against it. The biggest complaint—and, ultimately, the only one that matters—is that it’s boring. Tedious. Excruciatingly bland and stupefying.

In fact, the only thing that broke up the boredom was my visceral dislike for all the characters. Each and every one, a Wesley Crusher. An entire family, an entire show, of people so aggravating and unlikable, that if I sat next to one on an airplane, I’d choke them out before we hit the runway. I hated them, and I hated every minute I had to spend with them.

Folks, when writing something, strive to create characters that are likable, or at least interesting. Unlikable and boring is pretty much the nadir of character design, and Lost in Space hit that jackpot each and every time.

The show was so awful, it isn’t even worth spending the time to analyze why. It was shallow, it was insipid, and by the end I was just begging for it to be over.

So let’s flip to the other TV series I watched this week: Cobra Kai. YouTube Red’s sequel to The Karate Kid—the good one, not the modern reboot—put up two free eps, and since they looked pretty good, I decided to subscribe to YouTube Red. Wait, I’m not insane: the first month is free, so I’m not giving YouTube money or anything crazy like that.

Thankfully, Cobra Kai wasn’t as bad as Lost in Space. I didn’t hate all the characters, I was interested in where the story was going and, though it’s not the best thing on television, it is pretty good, up until the very end. That last episode, though… phew. (Spoilers to follow.)

Set 34 years after the original movie, Cobra Kai follows Johnny Lawrence, the blonde pretty boy who took the lead in bullying fresh-faced Daniel LaRusso. In the years since losing the All-Valley Karate Tournament to Danny, his life has gone straight downhill. A freshly-unemployed drunk, surrounded by TV commercials and billboards for LaRusso Luxury Motors, he’s a bit bitter about where his life ended up. Fresh out of options, he decides to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo to a fresh generation of students.

Though rivals, the series takes pains to show that both characters are struggling with their own set of problems, and both deal with them badly. Drunk one night, Johnny spray paints a penis on one of Danny’s billboards, and Danny retaliates by manipulating Johnny’s landlord into doubling the rent on the Cobra Kai dojo. On the plus side, both men become senseis to teen students, passing on their respective forms of karate.

The show dips deep into the well of nostalgia, and as usual for this kind of thing, mirrors events from the first movie. Johnny intervenes on behalf of an embattled student, Miguel Diaz, saving him from a beating by a crowd of karate-trained high school bullies. Diaz then becomes Johnny’s first student when he reopens the Cobra Kai dojo. Danny likewise takes in a student (Johnny’s estranged son, a budding juvenile criminal), teaching him the same way Mr. Miyagi did 34 years ago, wax-on, wax-off and all. And, of course, both students meet at the All-Valley Karate Championships.

Which is where the wheels come off. To Johnny’s disgust, the only students he can attract at his dojo are the losers, freaks, and nerds of the school. The series takes great pains to show how they’re the despised and belittled rejects of the high school social scene, but under Johnny’s tutelage they gain confidence and self-respect. Diaz even gets to shine in a well done karate showdown with the four bullies, pummeling them into submission in the middle of the school cafeteria.

The entire show depicts everyone as just people, no true villains and no absolute heroes. (In fact Johnny, for all his flaws, is the most consistently decent person in the show. He’s in a bad situation because of past mistakes, but tries diligently to straighten out his life and get back on track.) Yet, for reasons, the last episode needs some unalloyed villains, so the Cobra Kai kids—the losers, freaks, and nerds—are recruited for the task. They cheat, belittle opponents, and explode in rage when they lose. This, despite Johnny telling them not to. They’re all around bad sports.

The series could have been about flawed men finding peace in teaching others how to rise above their flaws. In helping kids get their lives together, Danny and Johnny could have learned how to do the same. Yet, in order to set up a White Hat vs. Black Hat final confrontation (and, apparently, to set up the show’s next season), the series abandons all the themes and events it’s been building to, in favor of a cheap ending that blesses Danny’s student with unearned grace. It’s a morally incoherent cop out. The series had so much potential, but squandered it in the last episode.

Lost in Space lasted ten hours, but felt much longer. Cobra Kai lasted just over five hours, and was a pretty fun watch, up until the bizarre ending. On about 1/1000th the budget, it’s 1000 times as fun. I don’t know that I’d exactly recommend either, but if forced to chose, I’d suggest Cobra Kai over Lost in Space any day.

Cobra Kai is about karate. Lost in Space felt like I was getting my ass kicked with karate.

I know which I’d chose.

Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

  • Booch Paradise says:

    I don’t think its too big a surprise that they copped out at the end. One of the other big themes was the past vs the present. My guess is that the writers wanted to evoke the common feeling we have of wanting to go back to more civilized times, and then remind us of why it’s a bad idea. But because they are wrong on that point, to even try doing that meant they had to be dishonest with the story somewhere. Thus the weird, disjointed character development in the last episode.

  • TWS says:

    I hated lost in space and quit after the second or third episode. Everything as you say was simply bad, beginning to end. I was rooting for the planet to kill them all by the second episode.

    I’ll watch Cobra Kai, I used to own martial arts schools. I enjoyed the first set of movies and your point about the two older men finding their way through teaching their students is the story I hoped they would tell.

    I am disappointed that they fell off the rails in the last episode. I’ll watch the first couple anyway.

  • Fenris Wulf says:

    I liked the Lost in Space movie from 1998. Very cool visuals and pulp gonzo storytelling. The original series was trash on the level of Gilligan’s Island.

  • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

    It was so good until the inexplicable Heel Turn for the Cobra Kai kids (with the exception of Eli/Hawk).

    I knew they were going to do it the whole time but kept hoping they were going to surprise us like they had been consistently doing. The writers lacked the courage to follow where their ideas were taking them. I think this was most obvious with the sudden Heel Turn of Miguel and with the almost unnecessary character of Robby.Robby’s arc was lazy and convenient. He would have been a better character for a possible second season.

    My favorite part of the show was watching Johnny give out giant doses of Red Pill to the geeks and then watching the kids apply that.

  • NCLanceman says:

    Actually I thought the ending of Cobra Kai made a lot of sense. The whole soul of the show was how karate wasn’t just a cool way to beat up people, but it was a philosophy to live your life around. Cobra Kai’s “Strike Hard, Strike Fast, No Mercy” is the tool Johnny used to make those nerds into better people, but the logical conclusion is that it leads them to become the same kind of jerks he and his friends were during the original movie. You see him grappling with that in the last few scenes and I’m very interested in seeing where that goes next season.

    I hadn’t actually watched Lost in Space yet, but I have a Netflix subscription and I might as well give the first episode a shot. It doesn’t look promising though and I can’t say that I’d be surprised at it being terrible.

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