To start off I’m going to talk a little shop here… at The Nerd Mentality we try to mention the name of whatever we’re reviewing in the first paragraph, and maybe a few more times through the body of the article. It’s for analytics and algorithms and whatnot. I don’t understand it. But I’m reviewing Cobra Kai. See? Right there. I just did it and now the gods of the search engines will see my offering when the words “Cobra Kai” are typed and hopefully people will click on our mention of it and we’ll get a view and maybe a few cents. I’m telling you this now, nieces and nephews, because Uncle Manhammer has been trying to write this article for a week and broke the cardinal rule of TNM, so instead of shoehorning the name into my original opener below, I’m adding this. Cobra Kai.
I’m going to get this out of the way now… I didn’t have the same affinity for The Karate Kid and the sequels that everyone else seems to have. The franchise will also be forever responsible for giving us one of the best worst love ballads of all time from Peter Cetera (and interestingly enough written for Rocky 4 before it was repurposed) in The Glory of Love… but Ralph Macchio’s Daniel never did it for me. Hell, I was bullied in school and didn’t know karate but I was pretty sure I could kick his ass for being insufferable. I also wanted Macchio to be found guilty at the end of My Cousin Vinny, too, so I may be biased against him as an actor. He’s no Christian Slater after all.
Thanks to YouTube and the sea of revivals and reboots viewers have been enjoying(?) over the past few years we’ve finally gotten to Cobra Kai, a YouTube Red exclusive which has the distinct honor of being the only original offering I’ve heard of from the service. But the original trailers were strong enough to pique my interest and promise to tell the story from Johnny Lawrence’s view. My mind blanks if any franchise as high profile has attempted to do something like this before. It offers so many chances to add depth and really flesh out a character who was so one dimensional in the original incarnation. Gladly, these chances are fully utilized given the parameters of what’s already been established in this universe. There is a certain level of absurdity one must allow when dealing with a series that takes youth Karate so seriously and well into adulthood, however, it’s leveled out very well thanks to the observations of Daniel’s wife Amanda.
As the trailers suggest, Johnny is working meaningless jobs toiling in an existence of mediocrity. He’s obviously been dealt a series of bad hands and probably screwed up the few good ones along the way because of his abrasive attitude and death grip on the past, prohibiting him from learning from mistakes and improving upon them. After a particular string of bad choices, Johnny finds himself outside a convenience store and witnesses a group of kids bullying and trying to beat up Miguel. And what probably sums up the tone of the series best, Johnny intervenes, but not to defend the kid getting the snot kicked out of him, but because the kid got pushed into his car. Of course, this leads to a series of events which see Johnny re-open the Cobra Kai dojo and being training Miguel… until Daniel LaRusso gets wind of the whole ordeal and can’t let Cobra Kai exist.
By the same token that we see Johnny’s down on his luck side of life, we see what should be Daniel’s ideal existence. He’s a successful businessman owning a car dealership, has a beautiful wife and two children, and a sprawling home. Notice I say “should be” because Daniel has his own set of problems in a business rival, two cousins who were given pity jobs, and a son who he can’t relate to. And while Johnny’s series of unfortunate events are his fault to a certain extent, Daniel doesn’t do much to solve his own problems but goes about creating more once he finds out Johnny’s brought back the thing he hates most.
Cobra Kai is a fun, ballsy series not afraid to take their main characters to task for silly, impetuous choices, but it’s also not without flaws. Johnny’s son, for example, gets a job and does well at it just to spite his father. Most parents would pray for a teenage rebellion of that sort, but Cobra Kai presents it as an obstacle because the aforementioned son gets a job with Daniel’s car dealership. We’re also treated to some long-form existential questions like “What happens when the bullied become the bullies?” and “When are you responsible for how others see and treat you?”
In case you can’t tell, I binged this show in a day and enjoyed every minute of it. It made me feel nostalgic for a series I had no nostalgia for, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next season. Enough to pay the $10 subscription fee for. The first two episodes can be streamed free, watch episode one below right now!