“The Karate Kid” franchise has always been one that I enjoyed from a young age. From the original three to the Hilary Swank sequel to the Jaden Smith reboot, I have seem them all. However, whenever “Cobra Kai” was first announced and released on YouTube Red, I didn’t end up checking it out. Whether it was because I didn’t care for YouTube Red or because I didn’t think it was going to be good, I never checked it out. But, now that it is available on Netflix with a third season on the way, I thought it would be a good time to check it out.
34 years after the 1984 All-Valley Karate Tournament, Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka, and Daniel LaRusso, played by Ralph Macchio, find themselves in different places in life. Daniel has gone from the new kid from New Jersey to a successful owner of a car dealership. Johnny, on the other hand, has gone from the rich hotshot karate student to a drunken handyman. Things change for Johnny though when he saves his young neighbor Miguel, played by Xolo Mariduena, from a group of bullies and asks for him to be trained in karate. This inspires Johnny to reopen Cobra Kai to teach a new generation of students putting him in conflict with Daniel, who wants to prevent the style of karate from harming others the way he was as a teen.
Just from Season One, the series does many things right. It takes a look at these old characters who seemed to be pretty clear cut as good and bad and brings them into a more gray area. Though Johnny may have been a bully as a teenager, he is now someone who is trying to repair his life and move on from his past mistakes. While Daniel was well-meaning yet picked on kid back in the day, some of his actions are shady and deceptive showing a different side to the 80s hero. “Cobra Kai” really shows that these characters just like any other person can have a good and bad side. This is sold even further through the performances of Zabka and Macchio, who flesh out these characters even more than before.
However, the series is more than just about these old characters. It is also about the younger generation. Though in the 80s, Cobra Kai seemed to be a group of bullies; the modern Cobra Kai becomes a haven for bullied kids to learn how to fight back against bullies. Along with Miguel, Aisha, played by Nichole Brown, joins Cobra Kai after being bullied because of being overweight. One of Miguel’s friends Eli, played by Jacob Bertrand, also joins the dojo due to being bullied because of a scar on his lip caused by a surgery. Each of these students begin to change due to their training with Eli making the biggest change by “flipping the script” and becoming Hawk, now sporting a blue mohawk.
Aside from these characters, the series also follows the children of Johnny and Daniel. Daniel’s daughter Samantha, played by Mary Mouser, finds herself with a group of mean girls bully Aisha causing a rift between the former friends. She also begins to develop a relationship with Miguel as he begins training more and more with Johnny. Alongside Sam, there is a focus on Johnny’s estranged son Robby, played by Tanner Buchanan, who has dropped out of school and works with a group of criminals. However, upon learning of his dad’s dojo, he begins to work for Daniel and form a bond with him to get back at his dad.
The series thrives on having all of these different characters who each learn a great deal over the course of the episodes. The action looks very fluid and is genuinely exciting to watch. But, the thing that works most for the series is how it can attract fans of the original films along with people who have never seen the films before. Something is there for every level of viewer. For the hardcore fans, there are the scenes with Danny and Johnny where you get to see how their characters are developing from the last time they were seen. For younger fans, there is the teenage aspect following the new characters while still learning about the old characters through interactions and the occasional flashbacks. Both aspects work together where it could’ve easily made the two types of fans split.
However, my main complaint with the first season comes from Episode 9. Without spoiling too much, episode 9 serves as the catalyst for the final episode, which takes place at the All-Valley Karate Tournament. The episode features Johnny and Daniel driving around town together while also having relationship troubles between Miguel and Sam. By the end of the episode, the worst of both situations has occurred changing the dynamics of the characters. However, all of this happened over the course of one episode, there was no real build-up and there were signs of reconciliation happening between both parties in the episode. It just felt like a cheap way to get the plot to having a climatic final episode, which I liked but felt like it was all too rushed.
For me personally, the first season of “Cobra Kai” is an 8 out of 10. The ninth episode really rubbed me the wrong way and kept it from being a 9 for me.
For my thoughts on Season Two, I will try and give as little spoilers as possible while still mentioning the aspects of the series.
After the tournament, the status of Cobra Kai is raised bringing back the presence of Johnny’s former sensei John Kreese, played by Martin Kove. Looking for a second chance, Kreese asks Johnny to allow him to help with the dojo to which Johnny reluctantly agrees. With Daniel, he has decided to open his own dojo, called Miyagi-Do, to combat Cobra Kai with Robby and Sam being his first students. This puts the two dojos into heavy conflict with one another with some students leaving Cobra Kai for Miyagi-Do and animosity developing between the students of both groups.
Season Two improves on many of the problems of the first season by making much of the tension be built up throughout the season. One of these tensions is between Sam and new addition Tory, played by Peyton List. Tory is a new Cobra Kai member and love interest to Miguel who begins to feud with her after their first interaction. This drama continues throughout the series building to a conclusion that feels earned.
Another one of the greatest aspects of Season Two is Martin Kove’s performance as Kreese. Whereas Daniel and Johnny are presented as having some gray moments, Kreese is presented as the true villain of the series. He hasn’t changed one bit from the last time we’ve seen him. But, he is the type of villain you love to hate because of how bad he is.
Season Two fixed a lot of my issues with the first season and improved the things I liked before. Watching the entire season to get to the Season Two finale is worth it alone for the ending fight. With the third season expected to come in 2021, now is the perfect time to watch the series. I couldn’t recommend it more.