Seeing as how I feel about the Karate Kid franchise as I would a family member, I will forgo any pretense that this Cobra Kai article will be an objective critique. As a friend recently said, the 1984 Karate Kid is a masterpiece. It stirs deep emotions. It has a goodness to it in Miyagi’s character, his karate, and how he mentors Daniel. The last two minutes could not be a more perfect cumulation of writing, music, and cinematography. And since I was six years old when it came out and watched it over and over, it has transcended “Yeah, I love that movie”. The sequels are a mixed bag. But like family, you claim them all.
When I heard three years ago they were going to bring this story into this century, I was highly skeptical. First, YouTube Red? The fact Netflix or Amazon didn’t carry it was a red flag. Also, it had been 34 years! Were Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence going to attempt karate in their 50s? I love both characters with my whole heart, but I feared it would be like watching Peyton Manning play quarterback in 2015. Or more accurately, what it would be like to see Peyton Manning try to QB in the NFL right now. However, I was also skeptical of the re-imagining of the movie in 2010 with Jackie Chan. And it was phenomenal. So while I couldn’t justify paying for another streaming service, when it finally came to Netflix I was ready to watch.
And so I have. It’s been like a family reunion. And you don’t review family reunions. You react to them. As such, here are my raw, unfiltered thoughts about Season 1:
Episode 1: Ace Degenerate
It opens with “The Kick,” just as Karate Kids II and III did. What a legendary, iconic moment. This made me want to rank my favorite fictional sports moments of all time. And I will. If this moment isn’t #1 it will be on the shortlist. The “So Short It’s Microscopic” list.
Johnny has fallen on hard times. Could I be feeling sympathy for this perfectly hatable ’80s sports villain? Of course! Johnny Lawrence is a legend in his own right. There is no Miyagi and Daniel-san without him. I want him to be successful. I am sad for him.
After 15 seconds I already love Miguel. I paused to look up the actor since he looked familiar. He had a recurring role on Parenthood I very much enjoyed. He did some adult acting on that show.
Johnny taking out a whole gang of punk teenagers? YES! Do I feel bad that I enjoyed that with every fiber of my being? NO!
Man, the language is rough.
Daniel recognizes Johnny in his own dealership. They come face-to-face. I think I may have stopped breathing. This is like in Creed II when Rocky and Drago meet again! Daniel tries to be nice, unaware of how much Johnny still hates him. Daniel’s employees immediately bring up the past. Daniel: “If you want to get technical, I kicked his face.” LOL. Johnny claims the kick was illegal. The writing team apparently has been reading the internet for the last 25 years.
When Johnny agrees to train Miguel in karate, Miguel asks “Are you going to be my teacher?” I knew Johnny’s response before he said it: “No, I’m going to be your sensei.” Yet the predictability didn’t diminish the impact of that statement one iota. I punched the air in excitement and applauded. JOHNNY #LEGEND LAWRENCE.
Episode 2: Strike First
I already am anticipating that Johnny is going to be my favorite character in this show. But 1984 Gowdy is still strong in 2021 Gowdy. So I’m thrilled that Daniel is living a dream life.
Ralph Macchio’s double-take reaction to seeing a “Cobra Kai” Dojo in a strip mall while driving was excellent acting. And an appropriate fictional reaction. This show exists because America cannot leave things in the past. Whatever Daniel felt in that moment, I felt it.
The contrast between Miyagi’s philosophy of chores and Johnny’s abusing Miguel with chores is well-noted.
Johnny has an estranged teenage son, Robby. Oh, this is going to be epic.
Daniel mentions his “first” trip to Okinawa. As a huge fan of Part II, I didn’t miss that tidbit.
Daniel crashes Johnny’s dojo to confront him. The two men are face-to-face! Fantastic optics. OH YEAH BABY! Daniel leaves, and they trade dueling smirks. Why didn’t they make this show ten years ago?!?!
Episode 3: Esqueleto
Johnny hasn’t left the ’80s. And it’s hilarious. #LEGEND.
There is definitely some cheese in this show, but it’s not out of place. Some of it reminds me a bit of TGIF family sitcom (Daniel going to the school dance to monitor his daughter?). Everything else is so good so far it overwhelms it. This definitely isn’t Fuller House.
Johnny has, in less than three episodes, vaulted way up the list of greatest trash-talkers. If he keeps this pace over three seasons I can see putting him on Larry Bird’s level. It keeps making me LOL. One extraordinary thing about it so far is the delivery. Much like Bill Murray’s comedy in Groundhog Day, Johnny isn’t changing decibel level, facial expression, or tone very much. And much of the material is juvenile. Yet the whole schtick is killing me.
It’s tough seeing Miguel get beat up again. But I know they’re setting up something special.
Episode 4: Cobra Kai Never Dies
Daniel spin kick at the rival auto dealer’s. He’s still got some moves at 60 years old. (Mostly joking. But he’s close.)
Sam’s got some moves too! No surprise there as they’ve already established she took karate with her dad as a child, but still cool to see.
Also no surprise to see that Johnny’s deadbeat past is going to cost him, but that kind of storyline in this kind of show has so much potential.
I’ve been quite pleased to see that, while the original is clearly the main focus of the flashbacks and current conflict, they are working in subtle references to the sequels. Including the title here.
Episode 5: Counterbalance
Aisha slamming and walloping a passive and apologetic Miguel was so good.
Miguel’s Revenge!!! This is something we never really got to see Daniel ever do in the movies. It was always Miyagi who took out gangs of attackers. This show is offering new material.
The end of this episode is the best moment so far. Daniel visiting Miyagi and then putting on his old headband and gi…Wow! Chills and a flood of emotion! I stood up to clap as the episode ended, but was brought to my knees when I saw the dedication to Pat Morita. Superbly done. I am whole-heartedly infatuated with this show now.
Episode 6: Quiver
The balance they are achieving between honoring the original movies and still telling new stories is remarkable.
Man, the language is rough.
Daniel is bonding with Johnny Lawrence’s estranged son. Wow.
Eli becomes Hawk. Also wow.
Episode 7: All Valley
I absolutely adored Daniel’s facial reaction when he has done to Robbie what Miyagi did to him (teaching him karate via manual labor). And he says, “Here comes the good part”. Daniel says it while unable to hide his joy with a small smile. Which contrasts with how stoic Miyagi was in that moment.
I really thought Johnny’s Cobra Kai “Strike First” advice to Miguel about his date with Sam was going to cost Miguel. I assumed he’d do something dumb and try to kiss her before she was ready. I’m thrilled he didn’t! Great scene with the two teenagers innocently falling in love. And with the same environment and music as Daniel and Ali 34 years ago! Young hearts do beat fast.
Daniel and Johnny going toe-to-toe over reinstating Cobra Kai had me on the edge of my seat.
Episode 8: Molting
Johnny’s speech in the junkyard. LOL. JOHNNY #LEGEND LAWRENCE.
Johnny’s version of what happened in 1984. ROTFL. (I really wonder if the writers are aware of the viral “Daniel was the real bully” video. I am guessing yes since it has 13 million views. Also, Johnny uses some of the same exact phrases from it.)
I loved seeing Daniel’s mom! Original actress!
I loved Daniel and Robby in the woods. And Daniel’s headstand-on-one arm kick! Glory!!
Episode 9: Different But Same
I want Daniel and Johnny to fight but I don’t want them to. Can they be rivals and best friends at the same time? I’m so torn.
Johnny eating eggs at the LaRusso house. LOL. Johnny and Daniel’s son exchanging barbs. LOL.
Man, the language is rough.
New favorite moment: Daniel and Johnny singing REO Speedwagon together during Johnny’s test drive. ROTFL. Inject it into my veins!! If you were raised in the ’80s, it can’t get much better than that.
The two continue to bond over the events of the movie. Notably over Ali. “What’s a Facebook?” LOL!! Never forget that 2018 Johnny never owned a computer because he wasn’t a nerd.
NEW FAVORITE MOMENT: Johnny challenges Daniel to a friendly fight like Apollo and Rocky did at the end of Rocky III. Because that’s what a legend does. I couldn’t stand it. Laughing, clapping, trying to stand up to applaud but I can’t because I’m laughing way too hard. Gowdy from 20 minutes ago, it can get better! That could be my favorite TV moment of all time. Rocky is my favorite movie franchise ever, with Karate Kid right behind. So this was almost too good to be true. If they ever reference Karate Kid or Cobra Kai in a Creed movie I may pee my pants.
That moment is almost immediately buried by the Robby reveal. But still, Daniel vs. Johnny in 2018 is the plot I didn’t know I needed in 2021.
Episode 10: No Mercy
Daniel stopping to look at the banner of the crane kick stance in 1984. Just so good.
So, let me get this straight…Johnny Lawrence’s son, who was introduced in this very season as being on drugs and stealing computers, is the Daniel-mentored good guy? And Miguel, who was introduced as the fatherless bullied immigrant kid with a servant’s heart, is the Cobra Kai bad guy? I’m not even sure if that is right. All I know is this show is not black and white as the movie was. And that makes it exactly what I wanted.
After Robby’s shoulder is hurt and he has reconciled with Daniel, Daniel feigns being able to heal Robby as Miyagi healed Daniel. Before calling for a medic. LOL.
There was no other way for it to end other than Miguel winning by not showing mercy. Yet it all remains so conflicting. Especially from Johnny’s point of view. Which is primary here.
And was there any other way for the episode to end other than John Kreese showing up? Unbelievable. I need Season 2 more than I need more cowbell.
At first, the highest compliment I could pay this show was that I am never tempted to look at my phone or be distracted in any way while watching. That is nearly unheard of for me in 2021.
But then the highest compliment to me became that this show is causing me to appreciate the original movies even more. And I didn’t think that was possible. No doubt the new stories and characters are well done. But I’m a Karate Kid kid at heart. They are doing exactly what the Creed franchise has done for Rocky. They both honor the originals in ways that fill me with joy. Except with 30 episodes (and counting), they have more opportunity for detail than two movies (also and counting). For the creators of Cobra Kai, this is clearly a passion project. They pay homage to the movies in big and small ways.
There is potential for this to be my favorite TV series ever. Both Lost and Stranger Things were better shows in Season 1. But that is the power of nostalgia. I can’t wait to react to Season 2!
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