The brilliant TV series follows Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence 34 years after The Karate Kid film and their rivalry is still going strong
Usually, sequels done decades later are a complete disaster, but I was pleasantly surprised with the first few episodes of Cobra Kai.
Like with Fuller House, I was worried that a late 1980s classic would feel misplaced in modern day.
There is something about the wholesomeness of moral lessons, the instantly recognisable soundtrack and the drama of it all that seems impossible to recreate in our era of advanced cinematography and weighty biopics.
But the show’s reviews crushed these preconceived notions; Rotten Tomatoes gave it a whopping 94 percent and IMDb ranked it an 8.8/10. So, I thought I’d give it a go.
Two different paths
In the first episode, we meet Johnny Lawrence, whose life hasn’t turned out the way he hoped. He’s living alone in a dodgy apartment, drinking frequently and eating petrol station pizza.
His hoodie and jeans ensemble, along with his Pontiac Firebird, show how stuck in the past he truly is. He sees the moment he lost that 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament to Daniel LaRusso as the moment it all went wrong, and he resents LaRusso for it.
LaRusso’s success doesn’t help his anger either. Now a family man, LaRusso has his own car dealership, two kids and a loving wife. At first, when he runs into Lawrence, he treats him like an old friend.
But, when Lawrence opens his own Cobra Kai dojo, LaRusso realises that nothing has changed and sees his childhood rival as an adult one. Then their feud starts all over again.
While the two’s tension continues, the show’s storyline and character development is surprisingly realistic.
Lawrence has no forgiveness for LaRusso but is humanised by his decision to help out a neighbor that’s being bullied. True to his hardened self and reflective of his past, Lawrence teaches the kid Cobra Kai: “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy”.
There is no magical transformation he’s undergone to become an amazing person. He’s still angry, mean, a bit racist and a bad father, but that flash of goodness we saw in his hesitation to hurt LaRusso in the tournament shines through in his adult life as well.
LaRusso is facing his own struggles too. While he has financial success, he feels like he is losing connection with his kids. His daughter is hanging out with the wrong crowd and his son only has time for his tablet.
One of the best things about this show is that it doesn’t try to sugar coat and tie up loose ends to move the plot along. We meet the characters where they are with the same struggles we face today, and because we know their past, we immediately sympathise with them.
But despite the realness, there is a strong 1980s nostalgia that threads through the series.
The soundtrack is unreal — Foreigner, Poison, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister, Queen — and it definitely sells the whole series for me.
The show also has carefully placed flashbacks of the original films that not only reminds us of pivotal moments in Lawrence's and LaRusso’s lives but also what moments they’ve carried on into adulthood, allowing to shape them into who they are now.
Also, iconic scenes fuse the 2018 series with the 198os movies, like when Lawrence opens his dojo and ties his karate headband on facing the camera or when LaRusso visits Mr. Miyagi’s grave in search of guidance.
I found myself singing along, cheering characters on and reminiscing about the impact the original films had on me as a kid.
Overall, the TV series definitely lives up to the hype and it masterfully carries the films’ message and conveys it in a way the younger generation can understand.
Cobra Kai seasons 1 - 3 are available to watch on Netflix
Feature image: Netflix
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