I know I don’t write often much these days; the pandemic has a way of making me feel like time is both infinite and unending. Is that vague enough an excuse? Unlikely. But much like the fists flying in faces throughout Cobra Kai, the snake has awaken my desire to act once again here on Pop Culture Squad.
Cobra Kai, for the three or four of you who haven’t heard or seen it yet, is a spin-off serialized sequel in the Karate Kid universe. Assuming it takes place in cannon to all but the remake starring Jaden Smith, the show catches up with original antagonist (ish) Johnny Lawrence. As much as I’d love to waste words recounting and reviewing the entire series episode by episode… I’ll simply say: watch it. It’s brilliantly made, and nails the crane kick to the face of the modernization and dusting off of old tropes for new audiences.
Everything about Cobra Kai is purposefully cheeky. The series resets and reboots the same concepts it was founded on… and then even goes ahead and J.J. Abrahms their way to flipping the script on gender roles, who becomes good, stays bad, and so on.
Interestingly enough to me though is my appreciation for the show. Much like Top Gun, and Caddyshack before it… I wasn’t privy to the original when it was part of the cultural zeitgeist. And sure, over time, I’d seen enough pastiches and homages to sequences of The Karate Kid (including the equally watered-down and hilarious Sidekicks) I could piece together the entire movie — and then likely caught it on cable sometime during my 20’s. I’ve never been a fan of the series by any stretch of the imagination.
But something about the trailer and then pilot just worked too well for me. I do love me some self-aware fiction. Cobra Kai from the start knows exactly what it is. A celebration. A redemption. An exploration. A retread with modern twists. And it does all of that with style and grace. It’s knowingly cheesy, but doesn’t shy away from its fair share of earned dramatic moments. It’s clearly and carefully crafted — with a few sly changes over time to sand off some rougher edges of the characters as they settle into necessary roles.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the show though, is how it manages to cram every single archetype available in fiction — allow it breath, adapt, and change — and then doubles back over itself to keep churning out storyline. Case in point? Eli Moskowitz, aka Hawk. Introduced first as shy nerd — petrified of attention due to a scar over his lip — slowly transforms into a burgeoning bully (thank you, karate!). And much like the vacillation of Johnny Lawrence’s finer points, so too does Hawk teeter on the side of rebirth before crashing headfirst back into antagonist. It’s honestly a perfect arc for teenagers coming of age in similar fiction. The picked-on kid finds a way to become popular (in a way). It corrupts him as the power and attention shift to the new persona. The audience roots for them to remember who they are, to ultimately fuse the soft heart to the kick-ass harder edges gained.
What Cobra Kai does though, is bring us right to that edge — before the plane can land on a singular thesis — and reset the table for the next episode (or in this case, a season). Is the show ultimately about redemption? Adaptation? Acceptance? Is it a “circle of life” wink-and-nod? A purposeful throwback to simpler narrative structures? It’s likely a bit of all of them, and then some.
I’ve opted to be mostly spoiler free thus far; but will kindly ask if you wish to keep it that way to go ahead and skip this paragraph. OK, are all the new recruits gone? Good. Let’s talk about that second season finale! I appreciated how the series decided not to make the All Valley tournament be the end all be all, and honestly didn’t see a school-wide karate fight as being where we’d wind up. I’d long figured given how things ended in season one, we could expect a Miyagi-Do win to create the necessary balance to the series. Can’t say potential paralysis or death was on my bingo card for the series by any stretch of the imagination. Frankly, impossibly, all I’m left with now is the hope for Miyagi-Do to now take Johnny in, make him an even more kick-ass ass-kicker… so he and Danny can fight Kreese on a rooftop of an LA skyscraper for the fate of the valley. Then, Johnny and Ms. Diaz can get married, and Miguel and Robbie can become the Double Dragons. Too much?
With a third season filmed and teased to be released on Netflix in 2021, rampant speculation is already being bandied about with what is yet to come. The teaser trailer (more a recap of the first 2 seasons than anything else) hints at some storylines picking up from the second and third Karate Kid movies. But given how things ended in the second season… the only thing I’m personally sure of, is the story simply isn’t over yet. And consider me game for Cobra Kai to return next with and grant us all no mercy!