The feel-good karate drama you deserve
I hate writing reviews but Cobra Kai should have more people talking about it. It’s so good. Storylines and plot threads are well handled, the large cast of characters grows steadily but each one is given enough time to develop and everything is set wonderfully well within nostalgia and colourful filters.
I finished the latest season a little while ago and have since let the pure karate adrenaline in my bloodstream dissipate. Mostly because otherwise, this article would just be “YEEEEAAAAA KARATE HI YA”.
When I first heard about it, back when season one came out, I didn’t watch it. It sounded bad. It sounded like a very forced not-quite re-boot of a film series with only one good instalment. It felt like a money grab. And while people are entitled to grab whatever money they think they can grab, it’s not for me. I’m not of the generation to be an O.G karate kid fan but I watched it when I was a kid, I loved the story, the character and even the actual reboot. The one with Jackie Chan? It was actually about Kung Fu. Wholly underrated if you ask me.
So when I heard they had made a series based after the events of the movie, I scoffed. I laughed, I said “That sounds so stupid, it’s not going to be good, it's going to try and rely on the success of the original movie. It will piss off the real fans and confuse new people. No.” Holy cow was I wrong.
The second season came out early last year. I heard it had come out and I was surprised. I hadn’t heard anything about it, good or bad, online but it had been renewed. With slates of films and t.v shows not getting renewed, I questioned my original thoughts. Maybe there is something. Okay. I’ll give it a try, at least so my opinions are not just speculation.
From episode one, I was in. The two original actors, (the adversaries) from The Karate Kid movie, came back, nearly 40 years later (!). And more importantly, both are actually good — with the “bad guy” Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) being the actual core of this reboot. There were a million ways to throw two child actors back into the universe that made them famous that would go badly. Somehow, this works.
I’d seen them both in one other thing, cameos in How I Met Your Mother. That’s it. I didn’t know they still acted, I didn’t know what they were doing, but I’m glad they did this.
It works because they don’t take themselves too seriously. They know the core fan base of the 1984 movie would be critical, so they call it out. They lay easter eggs for nerds like me and cut in clips from the original movie as flashbacks. And so the nerds get that hit of nostalgia. They know that no one learns Karate that fast, especially from people who only learnt when they were kids, 40 years ago. So they make a joke of it, everyone is immediately great at Karate, the adversaries remember all their moves and its as if they are picking up right after the movie. But also years later.
And they knew they couldn’t pull something like this off without a real story. Gimmicks and Karate jokes aside, the show deals with some heavy topics, for anyone watching. And it deals with them really well. One main character is a down on his luck, alcoholic, divorced, father who’s trying to turn things around. We watch his story. Another main character is an asthmatic kid from a poor, Ecuadorian family who lives in a two-bed flat with his single mother and grandmother. We see his story as he builds confidence and a sense of belonging.
And then there are wider themes, dealing with bullying, self-confidence, self-esteem. Underprivileged societies, PTSD, loss, domestic instability, and so on and so on.
And they pull it all off well even without Mr. Miyagi — the heart and soul of the original franchise. RIP Pat Morita. Go watch it. And tell me what you think on the Twitters.