That Moment When you Wait for Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan to Show Up (a Review of Cobra Kai Season 1&2)

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Karate Kid is one of those nearly perfect 80s movies. A movie so precise in its focus and execution that the fact it didn’t always exist seems odd. Even after follow two more movies of varying quality and a host of spin-offs and reboots the original persistent as a classic. Cobra Kai, originally a YouTube Original (cause that’s the best way to get a TV show out there) seeks to ask the question of what would those characters be like as grown up adults now that they moved past the pressures forced upon them.

One of the jokes and ideas from How I Met Your Mother that will always stay with me is how Billy Zabka was always the original Karate Kid and this show seeks to answer what would a series be like if that were true. Not to make him a literal Karate Kid, but to make him the secondary protagonist he always could have been.

That’s not to say there isn’t a new Karate Kid. In fact there are pointedly two who would be two more protagonists to round out the ensemble. These two newbies are Miguel, a new teneant who moves into the same apartment as Johnny Lawrence and gets him to train him and restart the dojo. On the other side is Robby, Johnny’s son he’s never spent time with. When John is forced back into his life or tries to renter it, Robby decides to work for Daniel at his fancy auto shop and start learning karate from him in the same way Daniel learned from Mr. Miyagi.

The first season is best explained as a remake or reboot (even as it is a continuation) of the first film but with more steps and drama injected into the proceedings. Normally that would feel utterly tedious and banking on nostalgia, and it kind of is, but it is done with the goal to humanize characters new and old and focused on a goal. That goal being to fix some of the problems with the original film, along with add more depth. The best example being how even as the main character wins he doesn’t, in fact, get the girl or come out on top. Instead it seeks to examine some of the toxic nature the show sought to try and break down. The original movie did this as well but wants to make it perfectly clear on its goal.

The second season is far more complicated. It’s hard to tell if it is better or worse for it. The first season was a tight story with Miguel being a default protagonist. Most of the show follows his journey. But going into season two Daniel has a dojo with his daughter and Johnny’s son. Kreese, the stable genius, is back, and the drama just continually escalates while trying to balance all the characters and plot points they want to get. On balance it is more successful than not, and digs in deeper at the toxic culture. Why toxic culture can spread, and how it ultimately doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t miss too. Too much of the drama is built around people not listening or not saying something. For the teenagers it works better and by the final episode is clearly the point of the season. For the adult characters it’s much harder to believe, but does make up for it by showing how it is clearly the old guys trying to relive their glory days and endluging in boneheaded drama than the writing for the show. The season does end on many strong gut punches that make you want more and to see the characters grow.

That has been the most surprising part of the show, the characters. Daniel and Johnny were never amazing characters. Arch-types at best. This digs into them and makes them balance out. Their rivalry reminds me of something Chris Sabat said in a DBZ behind the scenes interview. In that he says how fans want Goku and Vegeta to get along but are often so wrapped up in their own drama that it’s difficult. That same dynamic is at play, and the writers know it by showing they can be friends. Unfortunately they are both too strong willed and dismissive to see the good the other one has. Kreese, being the only other returning character, at least back for more than one episode, plays a good contrast. He never changed and is shown to be the worse for it.

As great as it is to have the original characters portrayed well it is the new cast that makes it amazing. Everyone has a certain flare, personality, energy, or well delivered arc with great dialogue, to help pull through some of the worse drama. They all feel pretty well drawn and have good stances that show the best and worst in everyone. It is easy to both have a favorite while also copping to how dumb they can be, which is often the point when it comes to kids. They can act dumb and it be just a blip they learn from. By the end, though, you want them to be better and see the error of their ways.

Something that did improve and make the show just stellar is the action. The original films were fine. Good for the time but bad in the ways the original trilogy in Star Wars is bad. They did the best with what they had and is impressive to appreciate, but are outclassed by what can be done now. Usually that is for CGI and effects, but I mean cinematography and choreography. All the fights are so well planned, feel built up to, and look great. This is best shown in the utter awesome final fight in the last episode. Everything keeps building with characters getting payoffs left and right, and the action is crazy if a little too Hollywood for a show that was better than that… until the end anyway. By the time that fight rolls around it feels like the whole team is showing off and they earned it. Then they end with a gut punch that just gets you and makes you feel devastated.

The reason it is so devestating is how it contrasts with the comedy. The show can be uproariously funny at times. Some jokes like Johnny being a guy trapped in 80s, or just how done Daniel’s wife is with all the silly Karate drama, and the nerdy kid Demitrie. It has such a good sense of comedy and how to balance that with the rest of drama and themes they want to tackle.

It’s almost like the show was able to find its own sense of balance. No one is a real hero or villain. The show is not just one kind of story or another. It doesn’t just wallow in the nostalgia of the past, but doesn’t try to move past it and deal with only the new character.

I am gushing about the show because it is an amazing show. Maybe one of my all time favorites (for now… see FOGO for more details), which is odd cause I don’t care about the Karate Kid. I don’t think it’s bad by any means, but it felt so standard and of its time that it never hit me in the right way. I respected it but didn’t care. I care now. I want to see these characters grow, change, and find balance even if Jaden Smith doesn’t show up at some point (I think that might be in an alternate universe since they name check Jackie Chan and it would be weird for him to show up after being mentioned).

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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