I firmly believe that must be living under a rock for the past thirty years if you have not heard of the Karate Kid movies. And no, I don’t mean the one with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. I mean the one with the iconic Mr. Miyagi and Daniel ‘Danny’ LaRusso. And if none of this rings a bell for you, I am sure the single-foot-hopping, ass kicking teenager will sure be recognisable.
There is a chance that you might have seen the movie on television some time. After all, it features at #40 on Entertainment Weekly’s 50 Best High School Movies. And I am also pretty sure that somebody has at least once tried to pass off Miyagi’s wisdom to you as their own. The first Karate Kid movie was released in 1984 and since has gone on to spawn its own film franchise, action figures, memorabilia and video games.
It had all but become a hall of famer in pop-culture when a spin-off web series called ‘Cobra Kai’ was announced in 2017. Given Hollywood’s recent fascination with sequels, spin-offs and reboots, this was not big news. But fans were not happy. Given that most of these projects rely heavily on nostalgia, fans were not keen to see the memory of their favorite movie messed with. That and with the plethora of shows in the market, people feared that it would soon be forgotten.
But that did not happen. Cobra Kai kicked ass and then some. Like Forbes’ Merrill Barr says: It’s hard. It’s fast. And it’s great. And it now has a second season dropping on April 24. I have not yet had the pleasure to grab a sneak peak at the new second season, but I want to tell you why it’s so worth it.
What is Cobra Kai?
— Cobra Kai (@CobraKaiSeries) April 4, 2019
Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the first or any Karate Kid movies. Except the latest one, that released in 2010. I am not a fan of that one. Cobra Kai is a dramedy that premiered in April 2018 on YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium). It takes place 34 years after the events of the first movie and revolves around the reopening of the Cobra Kai karate dojo by Johnny Lawrence and his rekindling an old rivalry with Daniel LaRusso. And if you know the movie, you know why that is a grudge someone will hold for over 30 years. Nobody ever forgets a ass kicking like the one Johnny got.
Cobra Kai has two parallel storylines. One: Johnny and Danny’s rivalry that relies heavily on nostalgia. But it deftly deals with their emotional struggles as they have grown up. And second: the students who join the Cobra Kai dojo. His new dojo attracts a group of bullied nerds and social outcasts who find an odd sense of camaraderie and self-confidence under his tutelage, but who take his aggressive philosophy too far. Particularly his star pupil, Miguel Diaz. There is also the story arc of Johnny’s estranged son Robby Keene who comes under the wing of Daniel, who hires the boy at his car dealership, initially not knowing that Johnny is his father. Daniel eventually proves a positive influence to the boy, teaching him Mr. Miyagi’s philosophy of balance.
The show oozes of nostalgia and sharp writing. Not to mention that it has a lot of karate. Another reason to love this is: Pat Morita and Elisabeth Shue appear via archive footage from the first film as Mr. Miyagi and Ali Mills, respectively. And if you don’t know who they are, watch the movies as quickly as you can.
Why is Cobra Kai worth the watch?
Maybe 2018-19 may be the season when kung-fu and karate finally makes a comeback on television. Into the Badlands, The Warrior and Cobra Kai are doing just that. And Dave Bautista is starring as the baddie in the new Ip Man movie. But is also has Michelle Yeoh, so maybe that is worth the watch. Coming back to Cobra Kai. Like I said before, the charm of this show lies in the fact that its storyline is largely self-reliant. It does not rely too heavily on nostalgia though it has that in sufficient doses. Also the casting is more-or-less spot on. It has a mix of experienced actors and mostly new faces who are able to stand their ground.
The show’s writing is sharp and the dialogue does not sound superficial. It feels oddly realistic. Now, a vast majority of us have witnessed some form of bullying when we were growing up. That is why the central storyline of overcoming adversity is familiar and endearing at the same time. The characters in the series remind us of either our friends or people we knew. Or still know. Also, the series handles sensitive topics with a dash of comedy and a lot of heart. And it goes without saying that it has a lot of karate. Maybe not as much as we would love, but I hope there is plenty more when the second season drops.
More than everything else that works for this movie is that it has a natural sense of progression. Almost nothing in either the plot or the characters story-arc feels added merely for the entertainment of the audience. The series punches hard at your gut and it seems that the second season will continue to do just that.
What to expect from Season 2?
After an action packed and nostalgia laden first season premiered in 2018, all eyes are now trained on YouTube Premium to drop the second season. And the people over at Polygon say this: Cobra Kai’s second season isn’t a particularly sophisticated look at abusive relationships or adolescent bullying, but it is still earnest and introspective in the right moments. Of course, it’s a show about karate kids, so things have to — and will — get physical. They just don’t here. Yet.
Forbes, on the other hand, says this: Plain and simple: Cobra Kai season two is just as hard, just as fast, just as mean and just as enjoyable as the first season was. Somehow, some way, the show that should have never succeeded has managed to become one of television’s best viewing experiences.
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