December 11, 2018

My favorite television, 2018: Cobra Kai


There’s a scene in episode six of the YouTube series Cobra Kai in which Johnny Lawrence sits on the curb outside his strip mall dojo and explains his backstory to one of his students. “Then Daniel LaRusso came to town,” he says. In this version, Daniel is the new kid in school who steals Johnny’s girlfriend, sucker-punches him at the beach and beats him in the All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships with an illegal kick.

Johnny is the Karate Kid. He is the protagonist. Everyone is the star of their own movie or television series, and everyone else is just a supporting player. A wingman, love interest, antagonist or sensei. Only the truly selfless — Mr. Miyagi or Mister Rogers — are immune from this self-satisfying worldview.

It is an ingenious premise: The Karate Kid — 34 years later, from Johnny’s point of view. Johnny is working class. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment. He becomes the sensei of the new kid in town. Daniel owns a chain of successful car dealerships. Beautiful wife, two kids, stunning home. Well-executed 1980s nostalgia in reverse would be good enough, but this series is so much more.

Cobra Kai is my favorite television series of 2018, because it’s about everything: life, redemption, estrangement, bullying and the inability of these two men to leave their high school rivalry behind. The first episode positions Johnny as the face and Daniel as the heel, and the second is Daniel’s story. From there, as Johnny’s rebooted Cobra Kai dojo gains momentum, there are so many twists — particularly with the high school kids — that there is no right or wrong. Just point of view. The morality in The Karate Kid was black and white. Cobra Kai unfolds in the gray areas.



Ralph Macchio, 57, and William Zabka, 53, are back as Daniel and Johnny, and it really helps that they are in fighting shape and look about 10 years younger than they are. Xolo Mariduena (Miguel), Mary Mouser (Daniel’s daughter) and Robby Keene (Johnny’s estranged son) lead a talented group of young actors. Jacob Bertrand’s transformation is noteworthy.

There’s a scene in episode nine where Johnny and Daniel have a few drinks at a bar in the middle of the day. They reminisce about the girl who got away and their seneis, you know, life. It’s their Pacino-De Niro coffee shop scene in Heat, their Chevy Chase-Bill Murray moment in Caddyshack. Just two regular guys trying to walk a mile in another man’s karate gi. But ultimately, each of them will always try to beat the other.

Zabka has put together a real layered performance. He plays Johnny with a sort of spiky charm like late era Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino) or Dennis Franz on NYPD Blue, with a banquet bottle of Coors in one hand and an outdated flip phone in the other. During their first lesson, he tells Miguel to “leave your asthma and your peanut allergies and all that other made-up bullshit outside.” For Johnny, there is honor in that, living life on his own terms, living in the past, because things were better then.



Cobra Kai is about the redemption of Johnny Lawrence. He is empowering a bunch of “wang-less dorks” to stand up for themselves, even if that means turning the bullied into bullies. He isn’t necessarily a good guy, but he is trying. Zabka, on the other hand, has fully evolved ideas about bullying.

The series is created and produced by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (the Harold & Kumar movies) and Josh Heald (Hot Tub Time Machine), and they hold the Karate Kid callbacks mostly in check, but there is some waxing on and off and a trip to Golf N’ Stuff — enough to satisfy hardcore fans. In an era of prestige dramas full of anti-heroes and dark lighting, the Cobra producers have made something more authentic, aiming middle-high, closer to a mid-90s broadcast drama than an HBO series. They are not filmmakers, but they are storytellers.

There’s a scene in the final episode of Cobra Kai — and this is a spoiler alert — when Johnny sits at the desk in his dojo, washing down regret with Jim Beam after the latest All Valley Karate Championships. He has exorcised the ghosts of his past, but also invited them back into his life.
— Kevin Brewer



2. THE AMERICANS (FX)

After exploring the cold war of marriage and the nuclear threat of raising children for six seasons, The Americans delivered one of the best finales of all time. No series mixed music and images better, especially U2’s “With or Without You” and that final train sequence.



3. BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC)

There was a sadness in the moral devolution of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), but plenty of glee in Jimmy and Kim’s elaborate con that freed Huell. Funny, heartbreaking, better than Breaking Bad. Oh, and those montages.



4. ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)

The best live audience sitcom since, I don’t know, sometime in the 90s. It’s also one of Norman Lear’s best, but Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce run this timely reboot. Justin Machado’s performance honors mothers, veterans and all those who suffer from depression.



5. GLOW (Netflix)

Written by Nick Jones and Rachel Shukert and directed by Meera Menon, “The Good Twin” was my favorite episode of any series this year — an episode of the fictional G.L.O.W. wrapped inside an episode of GLOW that serviced the entire cast. WTF, Marc Maron is good.



6. BARRY (HBO)

Bill Hader replaced Louis C.K. as comedy’s preeminent polymath — writing, directing, producing and starring as a recovering hitman / wannabe actor and deftly walking the comedy-drama tightrope. Best moment: Henry Winkler finally got that Emmy.



7. BLACK MIRROR (Netflix)

The fourth season was released in the last few days of 2017. At its best, this sci-fi anthology set in the near-future is as good as The Twilight Zone. Its warnings against the dangers of technology feel both timely and eerily prescient. “USS Callister” was the highlight.



8. Pop culture documentaries

The year’s best documentaries focused on some of my favorite subjects: Garry Shandling (directed by Judd Apatow), Robin Williams, Andre the Giant, Johnny Cash (vs. Richard Nixon), Freaks and Geeks and Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain. Hidden gem: “Mork & Mindy” outtakes.



9. Don Giller’s YouTube channel (YouTube)

An archive of Late Night with David Letterman (1982-93) full of essentials, deep cuts and exhaustive collections. From Phil Hartman to “The Chris Elliott Jr. Show” to every time Dave called his mom, Giller’s digitized library kept me from my original programming to-do list.



One note | Atlanta was probably the best reviewed series of the year. It didn’t make my list, because I didn’t see it. Maybe next year.

My 2018 television diary …

January 1

Dave Chappelle: Equanimity

January 2

Todd Barry: Spicy Honey

January 3

Black Mirror [4.1]

Black Mirror [4.2]

January 4

Black Mirror [2.1]

Black Mirror [2.2]

Black Mirror [4.6]

January 5

Black Mirror [3.1]

Black Mirror [3.2]

Black Mirror [3.3]

Black Mirror [2014 special]

January 6

MOLLY’S GAME [2018]

January 11

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.1] Barack Obama

January 12

Late Night with David Letterman [Jan. 5, 1993] Art Donovan, Al Franken, Carolyn Jabs

January 13

Saturday Night Live [43.10] Sam Rockwell

January 14

I, TONYA [2018]

January 15

Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story [2018]

January 18

Crashing [2.1]

January 19

REAL GENIUS [1985]

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.1]

January 20

Later with Bob Costas [April 4, 1989] Kevin Bacon

Later with Bob Costas [Feb. 5-6, 1992] Oliver Stone

Johnny Carson [Jan. 17, 1974] Robyn Hilton, Fernando Llamas, Richard Pryor, William Peter Blatty

January 21

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Norm Macdonald]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Michael Richards]

January 25

Later with Bob Costas [May 24-25, 1989] Tom Snyder

Later with Bob Costas [Feb. 21, 1994] Tom Snyder

January 26

One Day at a Time [2.1]

One Day at a Time [2.2]

One Day at a Time [2.3]

One Day at a Time [2.4]

January 27

One Day at a Time [2.5]

One Day at a Time [2.6]

One Day at a Time [2.7]

One Day at a Time [2.8]

January 28

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.2]

Crashing [2.2]

One Day at a Time [2.9]

One Day at a Time [2.10]

One Day at a Time [2.11]

Crashing [2.3]

January 31

One Day at a Time [2.12]

One Day at a Time [2.13]

Doogie Howser, M.D. [3.24]

February 1

Barney Miller [2.11]

February 2

Johnny Carson [Feb. 1, 1989] Martin Short, Isabella Rosselini, Gene Fleming

February 3

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.3]

A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE [2018]

February 4

Crashing [2.4]

February 5

Nightline Up Close [July 2002] David Letterman

February 9

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.2] George Clooney

February 11

Crashing [2.4]

February 17

ZOMBIELAND [2009]

February 18

Later with Bob Costas [March 21, 1991] Howard Stern / guest host: Tom Snyder

February 20

Crashing [2.5]

February 24

Later with Bob Costas [July 10, 1990] Don Hewitt, Part 2

Everything Sucks [1.1]

Everything Sucks [1.2]

Dinner for Five [4.1] David Milch, Jay Mohr, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Rapaport

Dinner for Five [2.12] Judd Apatow, Peter Berg, Famke Janessen, Paul Rudd

Dinner for Five [3.10] Danny Aiello, Delroy Lindo, Colin Quinn, John Waters

Dinner for Five [1.7] Saffron Burrows, Faizon Love, Michael Rapaport, Sarah Silverman

Dinner for Five [3.9] Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Charles Nelson Reilly

Dinner for Five [3.6] Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Laura Dern, Ernie Hudson

February 25

Hiking with Kevin [2017] Bella Thorne

Cheers [1.5]

The Bob Newhart Show [2.7]

The Mary Tyler Moore Show [1.5]

Taxi [1.7]

February 27

Dinner for Five [3.14] Neve Campbell, Henry Winkler, Dave Foley, Jeff Garlin

Dinner for Five [4.10] Christina Ricci, Steven Drozd, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi

February 28

Dinner for Five [3.11] Alan Cumming, Amy Irving, Faizon Love, Isaac Mizrahi

Dinner for Five [3.12] David Cross, Philip Baker Hall, George Hickenlooper, Molly Shannon

Dinner for Five [3.13] Richard Donner, Ron Eldard, Michael Madsen, Ray Romano

Dinner for Five [2.7] Vince Vaughn, Rory Cochrane, Brian Cox, Cole Hauser

March 1

Dinner for Five [1.6] Sean Astin, Bonnie Hunt, Kevin James, Ray Romano

Dinner for Five [1.9] David Cross, Famke Janssen, Denis Leary, Martha Plimpton

March 2

Later with Bob Costas [xx] Glen Charles, Les Charles and James Burrows, Part 1

Later with Bob Costas [xx] Glen Charles, Les Charles and James Burrows, Part 2

March 3

Wrestlemania X [March 20, 1994]

March 10

Late Late Show with Tom Snyder [Feb. 28, 1996] Garry Shandling

March 18

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon [2015]

The Monday Night War: WWE vs. WCW [1.19] The Fall of WCW

March 19

The Monday Night War: WWE vs. WCW [1.6] The Hart of War

March 22

Ricky Gervais meets … Garry Shandling [2006]

March 25

Barry [1.1]

Silicon Valley [5.1]

March 27

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 1 [2018]

March 28

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 1 [2018]

March 29

The Americans [6.1]

April 1

Roseanne [10.2]

NYPD Blue [1.1]

NYPD Blue [1.2]

Silicon Valley [5.2]

Later with Bob Costas [Dec. 12, 1989] Steven Bochco

Later with Greg Kinnear [1996] Steven Bochco



April 2

Barry [1.2]

April 5

The Americans [6.2]

April 6

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.4] Jay-Z

April 7

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.10] Geraldo Rivera, Louie Anderson

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Seth Meyers]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Julia Louis-Dreyfus]

April 8

GAME NIGHT [2018]

April 9

Silicon Valley [5.3]

Barry [1.3]

April 10

Andre the Giant [HBO, 2018]

April 12

The Americans [6.3]

April 13

Conan [April 11, 2014] Conan in Italy with Jordan Schlansky

BORG vs. McENROE [2018]

April 14

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.11] Andy Cohen

April 15

Silicon Valley [5.4]

Barry [1.4]

April 17

Harry Anderson collection on Late Night, 1982-87



April 18

The Americans [6.4]

April 19

Cheers [11.19] Guest star | Harry Anderson

April 21

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.12]

NYPD Blue [1.22]

NYPD Blue [6.6]

NYPD Blue [6.7]

April 22

NYPD Blue [6.8]

Silicon Valley [5.5]

Barry [1.5]

NYPD Blue [1.5]

NYPD Blue [1.8]

April 23

Sports Century: Jimmy Connors

April 24

Larry King Now [2015] Andy Richter

April 25

The Americans [6.5]

April 26

Larry King Now [2015] Mark Harmon

April 27

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.13]

April 28

FRACTURE [2007]

April 28

Silicon Valley [5.6]

Barry [1.6]

May 2

The Americans [6.6]

Cobra Kai [1.1]

Cobra Kai [1.2]

Cobra Kai [1.3]

Cobra Kai [1.4]

Cobra Kai [1.5]

May 3

Cobra Kai [1.6]

Cobra Kai [1.7]

Cobra Kai [1.8]

Cobra Kai [1.9]

Cobra Kai [1.10]

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.5] Tina Fey

May 5

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.14]

May 6

Silicon Valley [5.7]

Barry [1.7]

May 8

Cobra Kai [1.1]

Cobra Kai [1.2]

Larry King Now [2014] Cast of Silicon Valley

May 9

Cobra Kai [1.3]

Cobra Kai [1.4]

The Americans [6.7]

May 10

Cobra Kai [1.5]

May 12

Cobra Kai [1.6]

May 13

Silicon Valley [5.8]

Barry [1.8]

May 16

Cobra Kai [1.7]

May 17

The Americans [6.8]

HOT FUZZ [2007]

May 19

TROPIC THUNDER [2008]

MACHETE [2010]

May 21

Cobra Kai [1.9]

Cobra Kai [1.10]

May 24

The Americans [6.9]

May 28

DEADPOOL 2 [2018]

May 29

Sports Century: Jimmy Connors

May 30

The Americans [6.10]

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [1.6] Howard Stern

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman [Bonus] Jerry Seinfeld

June 6

The Toys That Made Us [2.1] Star Trek

June 9

THE INFORMANT! [2009]

June 12

The Toys That Made Us [2.3] LEGO

The Toys That Made Us [2.4] Hello Kitty

June 15

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.19]

June 22

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.20]

June 23

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? [2018]

June 29

GLOW [2.1]

GLOW [2.2]

GLOW [2.3]

GLOW [2.4]

GLOW [2.5]

GLOW [2.6]

GLOW [2.7]

June 30

GLOW [2.8]

GLOW [2.9]

GLOW [2.10]

July 1

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.21]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Jim Gaffigan]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Fred Armisen]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Garry Shandling]

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [Cedric the Entertainer]

July 6

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.10] Kate McKinnon

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.6] Dana Carvey

July 7

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.1] Zach Galifianakis

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.2] Dave Chappelle

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.3] Ellen DeGeneres

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.4] Tracy Morgan

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.5] Brian Regan

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.7] Hasan Minhaj

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.8] Neal Brennan

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.9] John Mulaney

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.11] Alec Baldwin

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [2018.12] Jerry Lewis

July 8

Tom Snyder [Dec. 1, 1994] Bob Newhart, Calvert DeForest

July 10

Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal [2003]

July 14

OBSERVE AND REPORT [2009]

July 15

BATTLE OF THE SEXES [2017]

July 16

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind [2018]

Cultureshock: Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary [July 16, 2018]



August 4

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.22]

August 7

Better Call Saul [4.1]

August 10

Barney Miller [5.10] The Radical

August 11

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.23]

August 12

MISSISSIPPI GRIND [2015]

Barney Miller [6.9]

August 13

HITMAN HART: WRESTLING WITH SHADOWS [1998]

August 14

BLACKKKLANSMAN [2018]

Better Call Saul [4.2]

August 18

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.24]

August 25

GRAN TORINO [2008]

August 26

Remote Control [Dec. 10, 1987] LL Cool J, Weird Al Yankovic, Julie Brown

Remote Control [Dec. 14, 1987] Danny Bonaduce, Butch Patrick, Brandon Cruz

Remote Control [1988] Bob Eubanks

Remote Control [Sept. 23, 1989] Barry Williams, Susan Olsen, Eve Plumb

August 27

Better Call Saul [4.3]

August 28

Better Call Saul [4.4]

August 30

Don Rickles: One Night Only [2014]

September 1

DIE HARD [1988]

September 2

The Brady Bunch 35th Anniversary Reunion Special: Still Brady After All These Years [2004]

Brady: An American Chronicle [1995]

September 3

Ozark [2.1]

Ozark [2.2]

Ozark [2.3]

Ozark [2.4]

Ozark [2.5]

September 4

Better Call Saul [4.5]

Ozark [2.6]

Ozark [2.7]

Ozark [2.8]

Ozark [2.9]

Ozark [2.10]

September 8

THE BANDIT [2016]

Johnny Carson [Oct. 2, 1973] Dean Martin, Buddy Hackett, Burt Reynolds, Don Rickles, Carol Wayne

Dinner for Five [3.9] Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Charles Nelson Reilly



September 9

Smokey and the Bandit [1977]

September 10

Better Call Saul [4.6]

September 15

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.1] David Chase

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.3] Judge Judy

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.4] David Letterman

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.6] Chevy Chase

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.8] Michael Keaton

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.10] Lorne Michaels

September 16

Norm Macdonald Has a Show [1.2] Drew Barrymore

September 17

Better Call Saul [4.7]

September 18

Public Enemy: Prophets of Rage [2011]

September 19

House of Strombo [Sept. 16, 2018] Beastie Boys



September 20

Johnny Cash vs. Music Row [Sept. 1, 2004]

September 22

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.28] Michael Moore

September 25

Better Call Saul [4.8]

September 27

Johnny Cash: American Rebel [2015]

September 29

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.29]

Tough Crowd [April 10, 2003] Jon Stewart, Nick DiPaolo, Jim Norton, Ellen Cleghorn

WHITE BOY RICK [2018]

October 2

Better Call Saul [4.9]

October 6

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.30] Jeff Bridges

The Nineties [1.1] The One About TV: Part 1

The Nineties [1.2] The One About TV: Part 1

The Nineties [1.3] Isn’t It Ironic?

October 7

The Nineties [1.4] The Comeback Kid

October 9

Better Call Saul [4.10]

October 13

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.31]

October 14

The Seventies [1.8] What’s Going On

October 19

Real Time with Bill Maher: Anniversary Special



October 27

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.32]

October 30

BLAZING SADDLES [1974]

November 1

RATTLE AND HUM [1988]

November 2

Hip-Hop Evolution [1.3] The New Guard

Hip-Hop Evolution [1.4] The Birth of Gangsta Rap

November 3

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.33]

Barney Miller [6.17]

November 9

ReMastered Track 2: Tricky Dick and the Man in Black [2018]

November 10

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.34]

November 11

Later with Bob Costas [Dec. 23, 1991] Chris Elliott

November 14

Larry King Now [Feb. 15, 2018] Stan Lee

November 17

Real Time with Bill Maher [16.35]

November 18

Hiking with Kevin [2018] Kate Beckinsale

November 23

Growing Pains [5.13]

November 24

Hiking with Kevin [2018] David Spade

Hiking with Kevin [2018] Kumail Nanjiani

December 2

Bumping Mics [1.1]

December 6

Cultureshock: Chris Rock’s “Bring the Pain” [Oct. 15, 2018]

December 7

Hiking with Kevin [2018] “Weird Al” Yankovic

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