The Karate Kid saga continues.
Cobra Kai is a 2018 martial arts drama series created by Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg. It currently has three seasons streaming to both YouTube and Netflix, consisting of thirty episodes. It has been renewed for a fourth season. The series stars William Zabka and Ralph Macchio. It has been nominated for two Primetime Emmys during its run. This show acts as a sequel to the Karate Kid franchise as a whole, but a truly direct sequel to The Karate Kid.
"I'm gonna be your sensei." -Johnny Lawrence
34 years after Daniel LaRusso beat Johnny Lawrence in the All-Valley Under 18 tournament, Johnny is a washed-up drunk and Daniel is a successful car dealer. When a bullied teenager named Miguel Diaz meets up with Johnny, Johnny reopens Cobra Kai and takes up Miguel as his first student. With the return of Cobra Kai, Daniel suddenly becomes very worried and their decades-long rivalry re-emerges.
Johnny and Daniel
In my opinion, the rivalry between Johnny and Daniel was the strongest part of the season. Before that, though, it is interesting to see where a lot of these characters are at after the events of The Karate Kid. I never watched any of the sequels, so this is my first time seeing Daniel and Johnny since the original. It's a good and logical continuation of where we saw these characters leave off...except Johnny did say "You're all right, LaRusso!" at the end of The Karate Kid. And that is not how he feels in Cobra Kai.
I liked William Zabka and Ralph Macchio's tense chemistry. It definitely felt like these two were archenemies, and it makes the scenes between them all the more nerve-racking. As they get close to becoming friends, you feel the heartbreak when Johnny finds Robby training in Daniel's dojo. This was always something to look forward to in an episode. I'll talk about it later as we get to the Robby section.
Reopening of Cobra Kai
The actual reopening of Cobra Kai makes sense. Johnny is washed up and in a bad place, and Miguel is going to help him find his place in the world. As The Karate Kid was, this show seems very character-driven. I like the relationship between them early in the season, when Miguel is training and Cobra Kai is just rising up.
However, Johnny naming it Cobra Kai and Daniel's worries are very unprecedented. If Johnny hadn't called the dojo Cobra Kai and named it, like, Masters of Karate, would Daniel still be worried? This was a frustrating plot point. Daniel is so riddled with hate for Cobra Kai that he won't just accept that they are the good guys here. Because he knows her, if he found out that Aisha was in it, would he still think that they are all bullies? This is where the writing can get to me. Yes, the script is full of cringy lines, but this plot beat specifically really hit me as weak.
Honestly, I think I liked the mid-season finale better than the actual finale. This season, when you think about it, is really two seasons meshed together as one. If they split it into two five episode seasons, it would make a lot of sense. And both halves of the season take elements from The Karate Kid, but the first half definitely has less, giving it a distinct flavor and separating it from becoming a re-tread.
This is where Miguel takes down Kyler and gains Sam's attention, officially putting Cobra Kai on the map. It was a big step for the show and will have a lasting effect on the season. I'm not a huge fan of what they did with Miguel after this, since I felt his character arc for the season was complete...halfway through it.
Karate Throughout the Season
When it comes to raw choreography and how it looks, the karate in this show looks good. It isn't anything special, but compared to the original Karate Kid, it's about twenty times better. It's shot better. It looks more realistic. More brutal. When Miguel gets his butt kicked, you feel that because it looks more organic than it did in the original.
However, they take karate so seriously. And it is the worst part of the season. In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi and Daniel's relationship had center stage. Karate was a tool used to fight off bullies. Now, the characters act like karate is the ultimate weapon. Daniel acts like Cobra Kai is some kind of nightmarish organization, reacting to it as real people would react to the Nazis returning. The fact that a grown adult who runs a car company is worried about a high school karate dojo is almost laughable. It is so dumb.
Robby Training Under Daniel
There are good things and bad things about this. It made for an interesting dynamic as Robby, who is Johnny's son, basically looked toward Johnny's arch-nemesis (Daniel) as a father figure. When Johnny finds out, there is emotion and heart, because he was just beginning to become friends with Daniel, but then feels betrayed by him. I'll talk about the tournament in a later section, but that was also a really interesting way to pay off this subplot.
But this is where Cobra Kai dips into re-tread territory. They try to do a couple things different, but it really all feels the same. Instead of painting the house and sanding the floor, Robby is washing the windows and pumping the tires. Instead of doing the crane kick on a post, he's doing the two-legged kick on a tree. It really repeats a lot of the stuff that happens in Karate Kid, which also happens later in the tournament. I was not a huge fan of these callbacks. There are better ways to execute the training than just redoing what happens in The Karate Kid.
Miguel and Sam
Once again, this had the feel of Karate Kid. Sam starts dating Kyler, Miguel's nemesis. Sam sees Kyler being a jerk and breaks up with him. Miguel starts dating Sam. Why I like this plot point, though, is because it doesn't have a happy ending, at least not in the first season. Miguel is a jerk back and Sam breaks up with him also.
As a whole, they were a nice couple. They weren't together for a super long time, but when they were, I thought that the two actors (I don't know their names) had nice chemistry. But this is also where Daniel's hate for Cobra Kai comes in to effect and where I thought it was at its most ridiculous. Sam won't tell her father that she is dating a kid that goes to his rival's karate school, because he is worried that the karate school is an evil bully cult. Like I said before. Laughable.
The Tournament and Karate Kid Fan Service
Although I still liked the finale, the callbacks and parallels to Karate Kid are exhausting. It feels like they didn't know what else to do for the finale, so they plucked out a bunch of scenes from the first film's tournament and then reworked the central narrative so that it's slightly different. While the overarching plot is different, specific beats are taken directly from the original film.
The thing that made me not hate it was the unhappy victory. Johnny, Miguel, and Cobra Kai win the tournament, but Johnny knows that they shouldn't have won because Miguel played dirty when fighting Robby. It had some nice weight to it and wrapped up the season well enough, although I really hate what they did to Miguel after he breaks up with Sam. The logical continuation of his character is not to make him mean and ruthless, which is what they did. I've started season two, and his character has reverted back to the protagonist that he was before, but for no reason.
However, even though I spent the last few sentences being negative on it, this still was a good finale. Kreese's return made for a nice cliffhanger, and I would say that it ended the season on a high note. Not the highest, but a high one nonetheless.
Cobra Kai is one hundred percent cheesy, corny fun that has a lot of problems. At the end of the day, if you are looking for an entertaining show, this is simply light-hearted fun and a nice follow-up to The Karate Kid.
I will give season one a Savory rating. Age range is 9+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Fun Factor: 8/10
Created by Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg
Rated TV-14 for karate violence and action, language, thematic elements
Episode runtime: 30 minutes
William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence
Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso
Xolo Meridueña as Miguel Diaz
Mary Mouser as Samantha LaRusso
Tanner Buchanan as Robby Keene
Nichole Brown as Aisha Robinson
Joe Seo as Kyler
Jacob Bertrand as Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz
Courtney Henggeler as Amanda LaRusso