Cobra Kai Never Dies
Different but Same
I loved the Karate Kid movies. Seeing Daniel LaRousso’s struggle to overcome the cobras and ascend to karate mastery formed some of my fondest memories as a child watching these films. When YouTube announced they’d be producing a follow-up in serialized format, I have to admit, I wasn’t convinced they’d pull it off. Having taken the plunge and binged all 10 episodes this week, Cobra Kai is a worthy follow-up and a staggeringly good series in its own right. Cleverly switching perspectives and offering a brand new storyline to boot, Cobra Kai is a surprisingly touching series, one that reflects our changing attitude as we grow older whilst delivering a thoroughly enjoyable show in its own right.
The show begins thirty years after the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament. Former Cobra Kai pupil Johnny Lawrence is haunted by the ghosts of his past. While Daniel LaRousso revels in the good life, complete with a trophy wife and high paying job, Johnny enjoys a cocktail of cheap beer and demeaning jobs, all whilst carrying a serious chip on his shoulder. When he takes a young kid called Diaz under his wing, teaching him karate and opening the Cobra Kai Dojo again, his rivalry with Daniel LaRousso reignites after a decades-long hiatus.
On the surface level, Cobra Kai is a funny, dramatic and action-packed series about karate. When you dive a little deeper into this one, there’s some surprisingly thought provoking concepts here. The way this 10 episode series flips the script and challenges our perceptions of who these characters are is partly the reason the series works as well as it does. You really empathise with Johnny’s tale and as more of his past is uncovered and you start to understand the motivations behind his actions in the films, he grows into a really likable anti-hero. By comparison, Daniel’s sickly sweet family life and cocky demeanour makes it very easy to see him as the antagonist for much of the series.
This really spills over to the tone which manages to consistently keep the spirit of the original films intact. Multiple flashbacks depicting scenes from the films, the eclectic 80s rock soundtrack, the numerous montages and returning characters themselves all combine to help achieve this. Cobra Kai is consistently funny too, balancing its hilarious comedy with perfectly placed moments of drama.
While most of the characters are well written and charismatic throughout the series, if there’s one gripe I have with Cobra Kai it comes from Robby Keene’s character. Next to all the others in the show, his journey to enlightenment feels a little rushed and not wholly convincing. When you compare his character to the likes of Diaz, Hawk or Aisha, Robby just doesn’t have the charisma nor the background to really match up to them.
Overall though, Cobra Kai is a fantastic show. It’s action packed, well paced and funny, all whilst keeping the lore of the original films going and matching its tone perfectly. The switched perspectives and believable arcs for most of the characters helps here too making for a thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish. Although the ending is a little predictable and Robby’s character doesn’t quite cut it, Cobra Kai is a worthy follow-up to the Karate Kid films and the perfect flagship show for YouTube.