For all of its Hero vs. Villain simplicity, The Karate Kid Movie Franchise isn’t weak on story. Daniel suffered the loss of his dad. Miyagi lost his wife and child. Both are far from home when they meet. When Daniel needs him because he’s being bullied, Miyagi teaches him karate. When Miyagi loses his dad, Daniel counsels him with his own story of grief. These films’ plots hinge on things like internment camps, honor culture, and acts of considerable financial generosity. It’s both a mentor/protegé and a coming-of-age story for the ages.
This, in turn, is why Cobra Kai has immaculate reviews and has been watched by 73 million Netflix users. It is not merely tapping into Crane Kick nostalgia. It’s recalling those stories that riveted us. And utilizing them as a starting point for gifting us with new ones that are equalling as captivating. Season One set the table. Season Two flipped the table over and then lit our hair on fire. Here are my unfiltered thoughts about it:
Episode 1: Mercy Part II
Johnny vs. Kreese! Johnny has him in a headlock and shows mercy. He is not going to be Kreese. But Kreese with the leg sweep! Kreese is going to be Kreese. Side note: I actually think “Sweep the leg” is as well known a quote from the original as “Wax on, wax off”. “Put him in a body bag! Yeah!” may be as well. Perhaps that is part of why this new series needed to be about Cobra Kai. They are such timeless villains.
Miyagi-Do! I love the new words we get to add to the Karate Kid lexicon. And the continued references to Mr. Miyagi. He was the original star to me. May he never be forgotten.
Is Anthony ever going to do anything in this series? I have zero true complaints about CK so far, but I’m a tad confused why he was cast. I hope they’re setting up something huge for him seasons down the road.
Johnny has his students go home to watch Over The Top. LOL. If you don’t know anything about this movie, please read the footnote at the end of this sentence1. I could write a thousand words just on it. But I won’t.
Johnny is going to forgive Kreese. [Gowdy hangs head.] Oh well. I guess there is no drama this season without that.
Episode 2: Back In Black
The title song behind a montage of Johnny and Miguel…Oh heck yes. Johnny’s new car exterior…too much!
Daniel is going to take Johnny Lawrence, Jr into his home. Wow!
That cement truck mixing scene was glorious, especially contrasted with Miyagi-Do learning balance. Johnny’s training is rough, raw, and jagged. Daniel is smooth, polished, and serene. I love it. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Episode 3: Fire And Ice
Johnny discovers the internet. ROTFL. Literally. I laughed for about 15 minutes. I was begging for mercy (no pun) by the end of it. That was maybe the hardest I’ve ever laughed at a TV moment. This scene was superbly done. The things Johnny actually puts into the search engine, the looks on his face, and the capper…when the conspiracy theory pops up and he gets tractor-beamed in. Johnny’s ignorance of the 21st century and subsequent education has made for some of the best comedy I’ve seen on TV in years. #LEGEND.
Daniel being accused of cultural appropriation is also hilarious. “Daniel LaRacist”. LOL. “That was Mr. Miyagi’s favorite song”. LOL! I feel like this show is actually very subtly making fun of some extreme parts of PC culture. I may be wrong.
Not to be outdone, Johnny then wants to make a video to end with “one of those hash brown thingies” and then orders Aisha to “Send it to the internet!” LOL!!!
Johnny takes Miguel out and explains about Robby, how he wasn’t there when he was born. I think someone is cutting onions somewhere near me.
The way Cobra Kai shows up Miyagi-Do at the festival both humored and enraged me. See, this is where Cobra Kai is a new beast. It brings conflicting thoughts and emotions nearly every episode.
Episode 4: The Moment of Truth
I haven’t talked about Demetri to this point. I like him. No doubt he can be annoying, but I see some of myself in him. He’s nerdier than I was in high school, but I was far closer to his awkwardness and physique than anything in the Cobra Kai dojo. Or Miyagi-Do now that I think about it.
Kreese is a liar. Shocker.
Daniel started out as a car salesman. Fascinating!
Tory. Oh, man. I’ve got a Han Solo bad feeling about this.
Demetri showing up at Miyagi-Do is right.
Episode 5: All In
That Eli flashback to his being bullied days before “Hawk” struck me deep.
Yet not as deeply as the face-off between Hawk and Demetri in the mall over the bad Yelp review. First, the whole Yelp aspect to the dialogue had me rolling. Demetri: “Besides, taking it down could hurt my Yelp Elite status.” LOL!!! And then, Hawk threatens him. Demetri: “You’d actually hurt me?” That punched me in the gut. Even without the flashback that opened this episode, I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye Demetri and Eli sitting at their loser lunch table alone at the beginning of the series. When Demetri asks that, you can see a look of humanity–“Eli”–for a nanosecond in Hawk’s eye. His character arc has been phenomenal.
Demetri being a whiner early on his training is great. So is Daniel understanding his Game of Thrones analogies. All of this shakes up the typical Miyagi aura.
Hawk and his gang vandalize Miyagi-Do. Oh, man. That hurts.
Another exhilarating Daniel vs. Johnny face-off. But Johnny is innocent this time! That makes it so much more emotional and consternating. Maybe Daniel really is the bad guy! OK, not truly but this moment makes it less black and white than ever.
Episode 6: Take A Right
Daniel taking his students back to the events of Karate Kid III with Terry Silver is great. It’s the one movie in the franchise I really do not like, but this show is helping with that.
Johnny getting back together with the Original Gangstas from 1984. Wow. That was a great call for an episode. Even though they are all so old now. I really like Bobby as a pastor. And that bar fight!
Tommy ends up in a body bag. I can’t even with that. I hate it and love it. It makes me so happy-sad.
Episode 7: Lull
Kreese shows up at Miyagi-Do to talk trash. He’s just so smug!
Stingray winning the headband challenge was hilarious and totally blind-siding.
Miguel returning the medal of honor was a nice touch. He is mirroring his sensei’s redemption, although he never has taken that far a trip down the dark side. Precisely because Johnny is his sensei.
Episode 8: Glory of Love
First, love the episode title. I have watched the last four minutes of Karate Kid II maybe a hundred times in my life, and the credits are always included. Peter Cetera!
Johnny’s Tinder profile. LOL! “Iron Eagle. Oh, and Iron Eagle 2”. LOL!!!!
Johnny on the dating scene. “I hate the Patriots, too.” LOL!!!!!!
Johnny telling Cobra Kai that there is a time to show mercy is huge. Johnny’s character transformation is wonderful to behold. He reminds me a little of Sawyer from LOST, in this way and others.
Tory…is quite the bad news.
Robbie at ’80s night looks like “Some guy named Dan Johnson”. LOL!! Also, I think Miguel is dressed as…JOHNNY #LEGEND LAWRENCE.
Johnny beating up the guy taking advantage of Miguel’s mom. #LEGEND.
Daniel and his wife listening to “You’re the Inspiration”. Peter Cetera!
Episode 9: Pulpo
The Johnny/Carmen, Daniel/Amanda accidental double-date…That’s what I’m screaming! These are my favorite scenes. Because I want more Daniel/Johnny banter. And quasi-reconciliation. These moments are like ice cream for my soul.
Moon’s party was hard to watch, for all the obvious reasons. The one redeeming moment was when Demetri got Hawk to break character for about 30 seconds over Doctor Who. Yet I’m not sure how I feel about Demetri going after Hawk so personally and publicly after Hawk recoils again. The Miguel/Robbie/Sam love triangle isn’t my favorite, but it provides helpful drama. Tory ratchets that drama up to about an 11. And Sam getting drunk so that Robbie takes her to his dad’s. Ooooh, baby. Season Finale…NOW!
Episode 10: No Mercy
First, I’m pretty sure this was me during the last 15 minutes of this episode:
Wow. I had to walk away from the TV for a while before I could write some coherent thoughts.
They are going to yo-yo this Johnny and Daniel frenemy thing till the very end, aren’t they? Every time they seem ready to bury the hatchet something outrageous about Robbie wedges between them again. At least we got to see a fight! YES! I still want them to be BFFs eventually, though.
Johnny taking Robby to school. “Are Trapper-Keepers still cool?” LOL!
Tory calls Sam out over the loudspeaker. There may have been a powdered keg of Daniel-Johnny-Kreese-Miguel-Robbie-Sam-Eli-Demetri-Cobra Kai-Miyagi-Do before Tory arrived, but she was the match. I don’t think any of this happens without her. What a classic throwback ’80s villain in such a nuanced show.
The fight, well, all I could think of was in the last season of Seinfeld when George opens up his heart and reveals all of his darkest fears and everything he’s capable of and Jerry replies, horrified and backing away: “Well good luck with all that.”
Seriously, that was a lot to take in. My face was already half-melted before Miguel went spine-first into a stairwell. Demetri’s triumph over Hawk was fun and the pipsqueak battle was funny. But then Tory breaks out whatever those knuckle horn things are; and, next thing I know, my head is ablaze, and I don’t know where I am, but I’m too hooked to walk away.
If that were only the end…
But then Kreese steals Cobra Kai from Johnny! WHAT? It’s getting creepy how badly this 74-year old man wants to influence these kids! But it’s still fabulous TV. Johnny is not a true villain, so Kreese is needed.
Amanda wants Miyagi-Do done. Tragic. How could Robbie have done this to so many good people? Watching Daniel apologize to Miyagi’s picture makes me want to lay facedown in a pillow and weep for hours.
Miguel is a hero at this point, so his gruesome injury and uncertainty of living much less doing karate is a tough pill to swallow. That alone makes me want to get to Season 3 immediately.
I don’t know what to think of the Ali cliffhanger. Looking forward to seeing her next season, at the very least.
Johnny, in only two seasons, is already one of the most humorous characters ever to me. And here is my thought: You can’t replace Mr. Miyagi. So they aren’t really trying. Yet Daniel is carrying on his legacy of karate philosophy. And Daniel is no doubt likable. But Mr. Miyai was bursting with personality in a way Daniel isn’t. Miyagi was legitimately funny, as when Daniel asks what kind of belt he has and he replies, “Canvas. J.C. Penny. $3.98. You like?”
What Johnny is doing is filling that void. He is mostly a bizarro Miyagi in karate philosophy, but he makes me laugh just as Miyagi did. Except even more frequently. Miyagi had such character—both integrity and personality—it really takes two guys to honor him and capture each one.
And those two men, their history and rivalry and staggered-yet-budding friendship is the core of the show to me. It works. On every level, in every way, it works. No doubt I like the teenager drama and new rivalries but just that without the greater Karate Kid context and you’d have just a decent show to me. Ralph Macchio and William Zabka deserve to be the face of all this. Their karates are the Cobra Kai zeitgeist.
I’m about as entertained by these two seasons as I could have ever expected to be. Season 3 has a Sears Tower level bar to try and clear.
- Over The Top, a cheesy but still delightful 1987 Sly Stallone movie, is by far my favorite work of his after the obvious in Rocky and Rambo. His character, Lincoln Hawk, is like Balboa in humility but has far different circumstances. Also, the novelty of arm-wrestling just scratches me right where I itch. And the music is exactly what you’d expect from the decade (i.e., amazing). Anyway, it is just a perfect obscure ’80s movie for Johnny to know and endorse. ↩