Cobra Kai is a perfect mix of nostalgia and great story telling. Right from the start, the YouTube series began expanding quickly on the Karate Kid universe presented to us all in the iconic 80’s movie franchise. So, rather than resting on nostalgia alone, Cobra Kai shows what the characters we all came to love have grown into over the years as well as introduces a number of new characters. Then, the fun part begins as audiences just get to sit back and watch as all the new and old characters begin clashing with one another.
First, the nostalgia. When the show starts, viewers get to see what’s become of both Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka). When last these two met, they were going at each other in the All Valley Karate Tournament at the end of 1984’s The Karate Kid. Daniel has become the owner of a successful chain of car dealerships. He’s still incorporating his karate past, having commercials where he does karate and giving bonsai trees with each new car purchase. He has a loving wife, daughter, and son. Basically, he’s doing well in life.
Johnny, meanwhile, has continued a downward spiral in the year’s since being bested by Daniel. He does odd jobs and is a bit of an alcoholic. His ex-wife is generally just angry with him, and his son won’t even talk to him. The impetus that gets the show moving is when Johnny decides to turn his life around by re-opening the Cobra Kai dojo and to teach karate to a new generation. The only problem is that he’s dealing with so many personal demons, he has a difficult time being the teacher, father, or man he wants to be. He does try hard, though. Viewers will likely find it difficult not to root for him as he’s kind of become the underdog.
When Johnny starts teaching kids, he does it so poorly that he comes across like Billy Bob Thornton in the Bad News Bears remake. He’s mean-spirited and grumpy, but he means well. Add that all up, and he’s quite hilarious.
Don’t worry, though. If you begin loving the Johnny character maybe even more than Daniel, like I have, there’s still a villain to hate. Johnny’s old sensei, John Kreese, comes back into the picture to try and take over Cobra Kai for himself once more.
If there’s something about the show that is a bit weird, it’s Kreese. Daniel wants to live his life and not let the bullies take over. That makes sense. Johnny wants to fix his own life and sees becoming a strip mall sensei as the way to do that. Also makes sense. Kreese, though? He’s bent on forming a group of militaristic karate children who will do his bidding, no matter how illegal. It seems like he’s trying to Tyler Durden them into becoming his army. To what end, I have no idea, as that concept would be quite far-fetched.
Moving past the OG Karate Kid characters, the new generation learning karate is where the show starts growing beyond its 80’s roots. Each new character has a link to either Daniel or Johnny, but they each have their own story as well. It gets very interesting to see how the story of each collides with one another. Keep in mind, as you watch the young generation of the show, that actors Billy and Ralph said the young actors didn’t know karate when the series began. Well, they picked it up very well.
The first kid, Miguel, is essentially Daniel from the first Karate Kid. He’s young, lives with his single mom, he’s being bullied, and there’s a girl at school he has a crush on. Johnny meets Miguel at their mutual apartment complex and becomes a demented version of Mr. Miyagi to him, making Miguel the first student of his new Cobra Kai.
Johnny’s son, Robby, is initially a petty criminal and gets a job at Daniel’s car dealership just to get back at his dad. Only, Daniel has no idea who Robby is and takes a liking to him. Of course, Daniel decides to start training Robby in his own kinder, gentler version of karate.
Daniel’s daughter, Samantha, has also been trained in karate by Daniel over the years and is extremely adept. Not long into the first season, she takes a liking to Miguel but keeps it secret from her father because she discovers he hates all things Cobra Kai.
Daniel finds out Johnny has re-opened Cobra Kai and vows to put a stop to it. He is 100% closed-minded on the possibility of anyone good natured being trained in Johnny’s dojo. Johnny, meanwhile, is 100% closed-minded on the possibility that Daniel isn’t so bad.
With that kind of setup, sparks are obviously going to fly. Age old grudges continue to magnify as new ones quickly form. Love stories grow into love triangles. The show is very entertaining and often edge of your seat, but at its heart is its characterization. Each character comes together in an elaborate tapestry that is 1 part action, 1 part comedy, and 1 part soap opera (in such a good way).
As the series develops, it becomes a model illustration of why people shouldn’t be closed-minded. Daniel and Johnny, neither one, are as bad as the other believes. These two characters are more similar than either would ever admit. During the first two seasons, they slowly dance around a possible bromance, but it all falls apart at the last minute each time they even consider it. These two become the most interesting “Will They, Won’t They” since Ross and Rachel. Daniel and Johnny don’t just blindly hate each other, though. Miguel is an amazingly nice kid, but Daniel refuses to see that. Daniel is a great influence on Robby, but Johnny refuses to admit it.
The closed-minded responses are not reserved solely for the adults though. Misunderstandings abound through this second generation of karate kids. As Robby and Miguel start setting their sites on the same girl, Samantha, they of course grow to hate each other. They can’t see that it’s possible that they’re both good guys. Even nice guy Miquel goes to the dark side and decides to put a hurting on Robby at the All Valley Tournament.
The series also shows how bullying can affect people beyond just the bullying act itself. Hawk completely transforms from a bullied, powerless kid to an abusive bully himself as he begins to become proficient in karate. Then, in the season 2 finale, new character Tory begins a fight with Samantha in the middle of the school day that leads one main character to the hospital. The show does such a good job showing the negative effects of bullying that it should really be shown in schools to teach valuable life lessons.
It doesn’t matter if you were a fan of the Karate Kid franchise or not, or even if you’ve seen it, the writing and characterization of this show would still pull you in. It’s story telling at its finest. The show is fun and keeps you aching to see the next episode to see which domino will fall next as the characters’ stories keep colliding with each other. The excitement, comedy, and drama are non-stop.
Cobra Kai: Nostalgia + Great Storytelling = Awesomeness
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 10/1010/10
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