Review | Cobra Kai (Seasons 1-3)

By John Kaiser III – Navarro County Gazette

Hollywood is obsessed with recycling and refeeding us our youth, often accused of being bereft of original ideas. However, every once in a while, the stars align (in this case Ralph Macchio and William Zabka) and they deliver us something truly special. This will be as spoiler free as I can be as I sing the praises of a series that, thanks to Netflix, has reached an all new audience and provided us an all new amazing season as of Jan. 1 2021. 

If you are looking for a new series to binge and have not seen Cobra Kai yet, let me tell you a bit about to see if it might be something you might enjoy.

When YouTube Red (now Premium) announced the Cobra Kai series as part of its then initiative to provide originally produced content to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, I came into it with not just curiosity, but some preconceived notions based on ideas I had on how a new movie or series should be done.

Couple this with a lifelong love of the original Karate Kid trilogy, and I was invested in this new series from the moment it was announced. After all, it was movies like Karate Kid, Fists of Fury and Enter the Ninja that inspired me to study Shotokan Karate in my youth when we had a school behind what is now Italian Village, and later in life, Taekwondo and Jujitsu, in the old Dyers building. 

The series launched on May 2, 2018 and was a hit for myself, fans, and YouTube. Cobra Kai is more than just pure fan service. Throughout all three seasons they really explore the characters giving them depths far beyond the movies ever did and beyond what some shows ever do. One of the great things show creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg do is interweave scenes from the original movie into the show.

These moments serve both as reminders to the connections for previous fans, giving needed insight to new viewers who may be coming into the series not having seen all of the original movies, making it accessible to everyone. However, the series did not become the phenomenon it is today until the series moved over to Netflix on Aug. 28 of 2020, and immediately became the number one watched show.

Season One is set 34 years after the original film, the series starts with Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka) stuck in the rut he was in during the ‘80s after losing the All Valley Karate Tournament, whereas Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) has made a decent life for himself. A series of events bring these two back into each other’s lives as the series explores and evolves their relationship and back stories.

Johnny is one of those guys who peaked in high school, and thus stuck in that era as the world has moved on well past him. He is not a “politically correct” character, yet you still root for him as you see him grow and use his unorthodox ways to transform his new students when he sets out to reform the Cobra Kai dojo, his karate school alma mater.

Daniel, on the other hand, has led a good life, is happily married with two kids, and runs a successful car dealership. He instilled the lessons he learned from his friendship with Mr. Miyagi into his life and his family. However, Daniel himself is not without fault either, as there are moments he lets his hang-ups prevent him from doing the right thing.

Throughout all three seasons both Johnny and Daniel have some severe PTSD when anything comes up that triggers their once rivalry. This could easily be hokey, but it actually works as a nice plot device that provides launch points to explore who these characters are. There’s also a great “will they, won’t they” tension built into each season, whether it be them becoming friends or fighting.

Cobra Kai shows the importance and effects of having a strong role model in your life. Where the original movies showed the dichotomy between having the wrong and right mentors, the new series blurs the lines a bit and goes deeper. 

Season One echoes beats of the first Karate Kid film where kids that need help receive it through their mentors and conflicts eventually come to a head at the All Valley Karate Tournament. The season ends with a huge reveal of another character from the movies making an appearance into the series that had all the hairs on my arm on end in sheer excitement.

Season Two picks up right where it left off and gets into the aftermath of the Tournament. While just as much of a character deep dive into all the old and new characters, with some truly amazing episodes that touch on “where are they now” with Johnny’s old crew, the season finale borders on “jumping the shark” territory with a massive karate school versus karate school no holds barred showdown. Thankfully, its entertaining and weaves back in some drama that brings it back down into reality. While Season Two does have a lot less of LaRusso’s annoying son, it does introduce the annoying man-child character Stingray. He’s an obvious over-reach at comic relief, but his antics just fell flat with me. Thankfully, everyone else elevates the show to something remarkable.

Season Three finds everyone still dealing with the trauma of the events of Season Two. We get even more backstory and insight into all the characters though some seem to be missing this time around without any real explanation. But, with so many characters, it is impossible to maintain focus on everyone with new additions being made to keep the series fresh. This is by far my favorite season as we finally get some ties to my favorite of the original trilogy, Karate Kid II.

Cobra Kai is filled with great little and big moments that play off the expectations of the original series and give them new twists.

This series is everything it needs to be and more, exceeding my expectations. I am truly hyped for a fourth season (which has already been confirmed with talks of a fifth and sixth), and recommend everyone check it out. 

There is so much more I want to say about the Cobra Kai series, but I like to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible. There’s a reason every ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s property under the sun are getting new leases on life in reboots and sequels. Nostalgia is a strong motivator. When done right like Cobra Kai and Bill & Ted Face the Music, these new takes on old IPs rekindle the fires we had for them growing up and spark all-new interest in the current generation. Hopefully it too will inspire a new generation into studying martial arts here locally like it once did me.

In fact, I may even look into picking up my training again. I mean if Ralph Macchio can still pull off a roundhouse kick at 59, there is hope that I might still be able to at 43.

The Cobra Kai series is a strong TV-14 and often includes scenes with strong language, alcohol use and violence (it is about karate afterall).

Cobra Kai on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/title/81002370

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