In Cobra Kai, a string of events causes Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) to renew their long-time rivalry, which previously culminated when Daniel beat Johnny in the All Valley Karate tournament of ’84.
The Beardict: 9 out of 10. Cobra Kai is a prime example of how you do a great sequel more than 30 years after the original. While the show gives a huge dose of nostalgia and draws a lot from the 80s classic The Karate Kid (1984), Cobra Kai is its own thing and reflects how the world has changed (and not changed) since then.
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
#1 Cobra Kai transcends generations and demographics because of its nod to the 80s. Recent times have not been great (specifically 2020), so people tend to look back at the 80s with rose-colored glasses. Just look at the pop culture releases set in the 80s or inspired by the decade: Netflix has shows such as Stranger Things, I Am Not Okay With This, and Sex Education, while Warner Bros. has Wonder Woman 1984 slated for this year.
Cobra Kai is rife with 80s references and nostalgia. Almost every song played is from the 80s (see compiled Spotify playlist by Lynn09 here), and gatherings are 80s-themed as much as possible. LaRusso Auto Group may be a luxury car dealer, but a lot of the cars featured are old school. When Daniel dramatically says that he has to start Miyagi Do Karate to stop Johnny from poisoning The Valley, you know that the 80s cheese is alive and well. Heck, Johnny’s whole life is stuck in the 80s. Hahaha.
Because of the gap between Cobra Kai and The Karate Kid (34+ years), teenagers, senior citizens, and everyone in between would have something to enjoy in the show.
#2 Cobra Kai is karate with drama, not drama with karate. One Tree Hill (2003) was a CW drama that centered on the rivalry between Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) and his half-brother Nathan (James Lafferty). Although there were enjoyable moments in the show, my main criticism was how they used basketball as a backdrop instead of using it to drive the plot forward.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with Cobra Kai. All episodes contain a healthy dose of karate, because in case you don’t know yet, karate is life. Daniel and Johnny consistently dish out kernels of wisdom that are applicable to both in fights and in real life.
#3 Cobra Kai is an awesome sequel, and that’s not an easy thing to do nowadays. A common complaint against Hollywood is that it relies too much on sequels (or remakes) instead of creating new material. Although technically a sequel, Cobra Kai feels like a fresh concept because of how it reintroduces the character of Johnny Lawrence more than 30 years after. In The Karate Kid (1984), he was written off as a typical bully. In reality, he is a flawed, troubled character whose side of the story was never really explored.
Nonetheless, in the years that followed, the Johnny following grew. In the Season 8 finale of the comedy sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) points out that the real Karate Kid is Johnny Lawrence (Zabka and Macchio even guest-starred!):
That’s not all. In 2015, YouTuber J. Matthew Turner released a video called “The Karate Kid: Daniel is the REAL Bully” and goes on to say that he is a “violent sociopath”:
Even if Cobra Kai presents former villain Johnny as someone to root for, it doesn’t really do a switcheroo and demonize Daniel (as the two videos I linked do). Instead, it shows how he isn’t a saint and also has his faults (up to now).
Lastly, Cobra Kai functions great as a sequel because of how its flashback scenes are so authentic—since it comes from actual The Karate Kid footage.
#4 Failure is not the end—there is always a second chance. Everyone can relate to a redemption story, and Johnny Lawrence’s is just that. Ever since he lost to Daniel in the ’84 All Valley tournament, he hasn’t been okay. Now in his 50s, he finds the strength to move forward and to stop living in the past. In today’s ultra-sensitive world, Johnny is also proof that a person can aspire to be good even though he is not that politically correct. Gradually, his students, especially Miguel Diaz, teach him to be more caring towards other people’s struggles.
All in all, Johnny’s still an anti-hero who’s far from being a Mary Sue (a main character with no flaws). In fact, all the characters of Cobra Kai have glaring faults that they try to work on, except for moms Amanda LaRusso (Courtney Henggeler) and Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) who already have their stuff together—without them, everything will probably go to hell. LOL.
#5 Cobra Kai has assembled the right talent for the job. I’m so happy that so many cast members from The Karate Kid came back for Cobra Kai, and you must be too. Of course, William Zabka and Ralph Macchio are at the top of the list. We have Kreese (Martin Kove) wreaking havoc and Daniel’s mom Lucille (Randee Heller) popping in to give him much-needed guidance. The best throwback and episode of the series was probably the one where Johnny and his old friends Tommy (Rob Garrison), Bobby (Ron Thomas), and Jimmy (Tony O’Dell) had a motorcycle adventure (Yes, I did notice all of their names have Y as the last letter. Haha). If Pat Morita were still alive, Mr. Miyagi would have most likely joined the cast as well.
The newcomers are also up to the task. Miguel Diaz (Xolo Mariduena), Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser) and Tory (Peyton List), the show’s very own love quadrangle, all know how to fight and have believable struggles. Schoolmates Hawk (Jacob Bertrand), Aisha (Nichole Brown), Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) and Moon (Hannah Kepple) are not just stagnant background characters—they also grow as the story progresses.
One of the most amusing cast members of Cobra Kai is Stingray/Raymond, played by Paul Walter Hauser. We know Raymond is there for comic relief, but Hauser is arguably the most high profile actor in the bunch, recently playing the title role in Clint Eastwood’s 2019 drama Richard Jewell (read Beardict here). Trivia: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Hauser played a security guard in Richard Jewell and he’s also applying to be one by the end of Season 2. LOL.
Since Elizabeth Shue isn’t busy anymore as Madelyn Stillwell in The Boys (read S1 Beardict here), maybe she can come back as Ali Mills, the ex-girlfriend of both Johnny and Daniel? They both seem to be not over her, anyway. Haha.
#6 Cobra Kai teaches us a way of life that is counterintuitive. Look, it’s easy to gravitate towards Miyagi Do Karate because it teaches about inner peace an all that. Why do you think the protagonists of The Karate Kid (1984) were Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi? However, life right now is tough and cruel, and if you show people they should not mess with you from the very start, you can live your life the way you want to (at least most of the time).
However, there’s a fine line between bullying and empowerment. “Strike First. Strike Hard. No Mercy.” Johnny’s Cobra Kai is about standing up to bullies, but with a motto like that, even he sees the danger of his students being carried away. It’s interesting how the dojo’s philosophy will evolve in the coming seasons.
#7 Cobra Kai makes us want to take a self-defense class (or at least be active). Cobra Kai inspires us to take care of our own bodies and be in control. In the show, we see how the characters get stronger because of their martial arts practice. They gain more discipline and become comfortable in their own skin, both inside and outside the dojo. And hey, you never know when some rando tries to attack you out of nowhere and you have to defend yourself!
#8 Just like fear, the sophomore slump does not exist in the this dojo. Cobra Kai Season 1’s execution was near perfect, and it was everything old and new fans wanted it to be and more. We got to see balance—Johnny wasn’t so bad after all, and Daniel clearly was (and still is) a problematic protagonist. For the most part, Season 2 has maintained this level of quality and even upped the stakes (that S2 finale was just WOAH). Having said that, Season 2 had characters making very bad, cringe-worthy decisions (especially the teenagers with their raging hormones). Here’s to Season 3 making them more mature (and badass)!
Really excited about the future of Cobra Kai – definitely one of my favorite shows of 2020. Watch out for Season 3 this 2021. Until then, HAI!
Photos courtesy of Netflix. Cobra Kai Seasons 1 and 2 are available via streaming on Netflix.