William Zabka can act his ass off

Zabka (center) with his karate students.

So the wife, son and I have been binge watching “Cobra Kai” on Netflix, and the show is an absolute delight and one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in 2020.

For those who might be unaware, it’s basically a 3 1/2-decades-later resumption of the first “Karate Kid” film, with Ralph Macchio back as an adult Daniel LaRusso and William Zabka reprising his role as Johnny Lawrence, the enemy rival. The series is brilliantly written, brilliantly constructed and brilliantly acted. There are 1,001 subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to the movie, and I can honestly say the wife hasn’t laughed as hard as she did watching this scene unfold for the first time …

Anyhow, of all the things “Cobra Kai” brings to the table, the biggest—in my opinion—is a singular revelation that should have been made clear long ago:

William Zabka can act his ass off.

The guy is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. His portrayal of the adult, broken-down Lawrence is nuance personified. The viewer is never sure whether he should hate Lawrence or love Lawrence; empathize with Lawrence or wish pain to Lawrence. It’s all in Zabka’s delivery—a look, a glare, a stare, a shrug. I’m being sincere: He’s that good, and if the Emmy Gods have any sense, this guy will be a shoo-in.

More to the point—at some point in Zabka’s career, Hollywood decided he could only play dickheads. So you have “Johnny Lawrence” in the “Karate Kid.” You have “Ruben” in “Shootfighter: Fight to the Death.” You have “Chas” in “Back to School.” Never did a producer or director look at Zabka’s skills and think, “Man, this guy is talented. Let’s make him a dying AIDS patient or a superhero sidekick or a good guy detective or a crossing guard.”

Nope—Zabka was typecast, and because of that it’s taken decades for the world to see what the 55-year old possesses in droves.


2 thoughts on “William Zabka can act his ass off”

  1. Greg Tolan in “Just One of the Guys”. I just binged watched this show this month and was so glad to see the third season is just around the corner. Absolutely dead on, Jeff, the guy is a great actor and leaves you hating, loving, and hankering for more.

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