One of my fondest childhood memories is watching “The Karate Kid” (1984) with my family. I was introduced to it at a young age; one of my parents loved the film so much that they sat my brother and me down to watch it. I came out of that first viewing loving it much more than I had anticipated I would. The film soon became a regular watch in my household, each viewing I remembered much fonder than the next. Then, like all kids do, I grew up and the film became a memory of my past. That is until “Cobra Kai” was being promoted on Youtube Red in 2018. It had been years since my first watch of the original film and was shocked to see that there was a series. It would take me years to eventually give the show a chance. At first, I thought that the series was simply another cash grab, a ploy by executives to cash in on the 80s nostalgia wave that had been primarily spearheaded by the release of “Stranger Things” (2016). Once I finally sat down in 2021 to give it a shot, I realized I was wrong.
The reason why I am so skeptical of the many reboots and sequels that we’ve been receiving en masse from Hollywood is because I can often tell that they are not created with real intention. Nostalgia sells, plain and simple. Studios understand and capitalize on this and we as consumers prove this to be true with the mass amount of money we spend watching these shows, films, etc. However, I’ve realized as we’ve gotten more and more of this content that it is simply devoid of any real meaning. Nothing of substance ends up coming about these reboots and they were simply opportunities to get to see our favorite characters back on screen. Yet, “Cobra Kai” doesn’t fall into this trap. What is so refreshing about the show is that its continuation from the original story makes sense because it is founded upon a mission to complicate the world we as viewers once knew.
The show opens up with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) in a bad place in his life. He’s a deadbeat dad, an alcoholic, a nobody really. On the other hand, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is an incredibly successful car salesman, happily married with his wife and children in their mansion in the Valley. It is what we as viewers expected from the ending of the original trilogy. The bad guy lives in the bad circumstances he deserves to live in as a consequence of his wrongdoings while the good guy is rewarded for never straying from that path. However, that narrative soon becomes a little complicated with the introduction of Miguel Diaz (Xolo Diaz), the new kid who moves into Johnny’s building. Johnny soon takes him under his wing after Miguel is continuously bullied at school, teaching him karate.
Miguel’s character is a perfect example of what “Cobra Kai” does best. We as an audience are drawn to Miguel because of his similarities to the story’s original protagonist, Daniel. However, with this new generation and context for the story, it is an opportunity to explore new stories with familiar characters like Johnny. Through his relationship with Miguel, we are able to see Johnny grow, adopting Miguel as his own and getting through that thick layer of grit that made his character so unappealing in the original. It is this foundational relationship between Miguel and Johnny that draws similarities to Mr. Miyagi and Daniel but has become its own thing as the show has gone on. While we are able to see Johnny grow, the lines between what was once thought of as good and evil begin to blur. Daniel is not the perfect kid he was portrayed as in the original. He still holds a grudge against Johnny, the two of them still engaged in this child-like rivalry. Daniel also messes up as a father, having to navigate his relationship with his daughter, Samantha (Mary Mouser). It’s refreshing to see a show focus on the character flaws or redemptive qualities that were apparent in the original, giving them more time to develop as the show goes on.
Ultimately, the appeal of “Cobra Kai” is that it complicates a world in which we are already familiar. There is still a definitive bad guy, John Kreese, but as the show goes on, we learn that our beloved characters are not as perfect as we once taught them to be. Like real life, they grow, circumstances change, and people mess up. This continuous exploration of the characters, moral dilemmas, etc. in “Cobra Kai” is why I still watch this show after four seasons and am tuning in to this recent fifth season.
“Cobra Kai” is available to stream on Netflix.