When YouTube announced that a The Karate Kid revival series, Cobra Kai, was on the way in mid-2018, I have to admit to feeling less than excited at the time. Or perhaps I was simply using skepticism as a defense mechanism against the unyielding sea of iffy remakes, reboots, and revivals that clutter up our entertainment landscape. It’s fair to say that many, if not most, of these efforts don’t hit the mark, and the 2010 remake (starring Jaden Smith) of the first movie was alright but didn’t feel necessary. Yet when it came time to revisit rivals Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), the end product was addictive.
Cobra Kai offered the perfect degree of nostalgia while updating the central dynamic in a compelling way. Two seasons on YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium) turned out to be critic-and-crowd pleasers, but (like virtually every other YouTube original series), the show got canceled. However, Netflix picked up Season 3, which will soon stream at an undisclosed date. In order to prep the stage, the first two seasons are still streaming on YouTube before they slide over to Netflix on August 28.
This is fantastic news, obviously, with Cobra Kai now having the opportunity to reach a much larger audience than the 20 million or so YouTube Premium subscribers (many of whom probably don’t have feels for the franchise), as opposed to Netflix’s over 180 million subscribers (representing every age group). The time is right to catch up on this show. Let’s discuss why in as spoiler-free a way as possible.
– All hail the underdogs
The underdog effect, this time describing the series itself, does it again. And almost nothing beats the simple satisfaction of watching an underdog story, whether it’s a boxing movie like The Fighter and Rocky or something outside the sports realm like 8 Mile or Erin Brockovich. Seeing success for characters who (literally) get kicked into the face, and to watch them rise against all odds and claim victory to the tune of some power-anthem/earworm — it’s awesome. And what’s really gratifying about Cobra Kai is that the TV series fashions almost every named character into an underdog. Of course, Daniel’s still riding that underdog wave, but Johnny’s now the principal underdog, given that he’s succeeded at nothing, and no one ever expected him to be better than the 2nd-place loser whose trophy got busted by his abusive coach. He becomes sensei to a group of high-school underdogs and sprays them in the face with a hose, and it’s a great scene. You’ll have to take my word for it.
– The crane-kick controversy continues unabated
I freaking love that Reddit threads exist to debate whether or not that crane-kick was illegal. Even Ralph Macchio has gotten in on the game during interviews to admit that, yeah, it was arguably illegal but justified because Johnny pulled that elbow-to-the-injured-knee move. And Johnny and Daniel argue about it on Cobra Kai, too, so it’s the finishing move that will never die. Frankly, I don’t think the debate (whether or not kicks to the face were prohibited by the refs) will ever be settled, but I do believe that it was at least shady for Daniel to do the crane kick. There was really no way for Johnny to not get kicked in the face at that moment, right? The Miyagi-Do pulled shenanigans with this kick, even if it did make for an iconic shot. It’s prompted endlessly delightful bickering from the audience, which is (let’s face it) a lot less stressful than most online arguments.
– No clear-cut heroes or villains, for the most part
Johnny’s a complicated dude. Yes, he was clearly one of the bad guys back in the day while bullying a defenseless newcomer at high school. In Cobra Kai, though, he’s long since shed the snakeskin. He’s got layers, and we learn a lot about his past and why he became so susceptible to programming by his sensei, John Kreese. Johnny’s actually a pretty good guy, once he gets a taste of what it feels like to enrich other people’s lives. He learns the error of his ways, and there’s a whole lot of character growth. I don’t know if I can say the same for the once-heroic Daniel. True, Daniel is never a villain, but he is pretty high on himself and, well, clueless about his need to feed his own ego, which actually turns out to be a detriment to the well-being of those around him.
– The father-son dynamics are goddamn heartwarming
We’ve got father-son dynamics for both Johnny (with Miguel) and Daniel (with Robby), and both men benefit from these relationships as much as their younger counterparts. What’s funny, though, is that Daniel’s biological son can’t stand karate, and there’s a bit of a switcheroo going on. The sensei-student relationships that do develop feel at home in this universe. Even cooler is how the younger halves of the father-son dynamics do a lot to build up the franchise for a future changing of the guard. One can easily imagine Miguel and Robby opening their own dojos one day and continuing to roundhouse each other’s butts, though students or otherwise. The legacy is strong for both Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do, so the future could hold a lot, after the show smartly fashioned itself with cross-generational appeal designed to pull in a new audience.
– Miyagi knows karate and would approve
Pat Morita’s sensei character would no doubt enjoy how the life lessons of this show get as much screentime as the fight training and big showdown scenes combined. And there are a lot of fight-training scenes, so it’s impressive that the show does not cut corners while making character earn their psychological belts as well. Nor does anyone ever do anything to dirty up the Miyagi-do legacy. The flaws that exist in Daniel are not reflective upon his teacher. Instead, they’re down to his failure to grow much at all since the 1980s movies. If Miyagi still lived, he’d be proud of the hard-earned lessons that go down during the series, and he’d probably dig the fight scenes, too.
Yes, the fight choreography of this series is on point, and more importantly, there are no superpowered shortcuts to be found. Just straight-up hard work, whether that means the endless drills on both ends, the unorthodox approaches sometimes taken by Johnny (concrete diving and the aforementioned hose to the face), or the mega-reliance upon balance training by Daniel’s budding crew. The climactic fights each season not only provide adrenaline doses for the audience, but they also push the plot in remarkable ways. As a result, there’s a pretty large question mark to be settled with the Season 3 debut, so yes, it’s time to start binging and get ready for the next chapter.
‘Cobra Kai’ starts streaming on Netflix on August 28.