Some Thoughts on Cobra Kai

Can we talk about how awesome this show is?

Cobra Kai is the show on YouTube Premium that continues the story of The Karate Kid, 30 years later. And this isn’t just some fan film, the likes of which you’d typically find on YouTube. This is well-written; it’s got an amazing cast… And it features the return of Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence.

I remember being excited about this show last year when the first season premiered. This is when they were still calling the subscription service YouTube Red. I’m pretty sure that’s officially changed to Premium now. If I’m wrong… well… okay. I don’t care that much.

Anyway, the first two episodes were free to watch. But if you wanted to see the rest of the season, you had to subscribe. Well… as great as those premiere episodes were, I just couldn’t justify subscribing to yet another streaming service where, in this case, all I’d get to see were more episodes of Cobra Kai and watch regular YouTube videos without those annoying ads.

The second season of Cobra Kai recently hit YouTube and it got me excited all over again. But I couldn’t just watch the first free episode of the second season without knowing what happened in the first season. So I pulled the trigger. I decided to go ahead and subscribe.

Well… I decided to give YouTube Premium the free trial for one month. And, if you guys could remind me to cancel in a couple weeks, that’d be great. I binged both seasons of Cobra Kai. I thought about checking out some of the other premium content that’s out there, but nothing really grabs me like Cobra Kai did. So I’ll just milk this free trial for as long as I can, just to avoid the annoying ads for a while.

Like I said, we pick up 30 years after the events of The Karate Kid. Daniel LaRusso won that fateful All-Valley Under 18 Karate Tournament and he has been milking it for all it’s worth ever since. Johnny Lawrence? Yeah, he grew up to be kind of a loser. But that happens when you can’t let go of your early 80s glory days and some kid from Jersey takes your championship title away from you with an illegal kick to the face.

Cobra Kai is extremely well done. It hits all of those nostalgic notes for the people who are my age who grew up watching Karate Kid movies. But it goes so far beyond the nostalgia. The series is able to shift focus, almost flawlessly, from the extended rivalry between Johnny and Daniel to the unfolding drama that drives the teenagers learning karate from Johnny’s newly reopened Cobra Kai dojo and Daniel’s subtler style, passed down from the late Mr. Miyagi.

This could have easily been received like a cheesy Nickelodeon or Disney Channel tween/teen show. But the writing and acting are head and shoulders above anything you’d find on those channels. You don’t just get invested in Daniel and Johnny. You get invested in their kids’ lives. You get invested in what pushes them to move forward. You get invested in what drags them down.

With a series like this, the creators are able to flesh out each of the characters, rather than giving the audience two hours of clear cut good guy versus clear cut bad guy. Cobra Kai shows us all of the layers and the shades of gray that make up the real world. It shows us that these two men who have hated each other since high school could really have a lot in common if they would just sit down and talk things out.

I don’t want to spoil it because I really want to encourage you to watch it for yourself. Even if you just do like I’ve done by taking advantage of the free trial, quitting once the show is over for you. I will spoil this, though… Martin Kove returns at the very end of season one and then throughout season two as Sensei John Kreese, the original founder of Cobra Kai and Johnny’s mentor, once upon a time.

The show has already been renewed for a third season, and I’ve heard a rumor that YouTube will be offering it for free (with ads) when the time comes. Which also means that, at some point, they’ll be offering the first two seasons for free as well. I know that I’ve made cynical claims about the original movies and even written blog posts about how Daniel never should have won any of his climactic fights in any of his movies. But my critiques have never diminished my absolute love for these films.

This is how reboots should be done. Not by retelling a story that was told 30 years ago. Not by recasting the iconic roles that made a movie or TV show great to begin with. But by getting writers who love the source material and are creative enough to continue telling a compelling story.

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