At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Cobra Kai as merely “the sequel to the Karate Kid movies”, but doing so would ignore how truly brilliant and refreshing this series actually is, and how welcoming it is to newcomers.
This review contains no spoilers for any seasons of Cobra Kai. So, with that out of the way, throw your Gi on and fasten that headband tight, it’s time to take a look at one of the most underrated shows of the last few years.
Miyagi’s Welcoming Embrace
To immediately put this review into perspective; I am not a Karate Kid fan. At least, I wasn’t until two weeks ago when I watched the first two movies back-to-back and quickly fell in love with the franchise. For years I, like I’m sure many of you right now, thought that The Karate Kid (1984) was a stereotypical 80s movie about a bullied teen that learns karate to defend himself. And while that is essentially completely true, I wasn’t expecting the incredible amount of heart, charm, and passion that oozed out of every frame and line of dialogue of the movie. I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to watch that first movie; I guarantee that it will surprise you.
With that being said, Cobra Kai actually does a remarkably good job of welcoming those who have never seen the Karate Kid movies before. While this series primarily follows characters from the original movie, the vast majority of the cast are completely new. New characters like Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) and Sam (Mary Mouser) provide the perfect bridge between the well-established lore of the series and new audiences, as we learn about this world, its characters and its history, from the perspective of those that are just as out-of-the-loop as we are.
In addition to its gateway characters, Cobra Kai also employs the use of flashbacks to great effect. Whenever an important character from the original series is introduced into the show or a reference is made, a brief flashback plays that shows you the original scene from the corresponding movie, meaning that you never feel like you’re being left behind.
The Perfect Blend of Fantasy and Realism
On the surface, Cobra Kai has a fairly absurd premise: two middle-aged men create warring karate dojos in a town that seemingly cares about karate and nothing else. But it’s this inherently ridiculous premise that makes this show so incredibly refreshing in the modern TV landscape. As every critic will tell you, tone is everything. Which is why Cobra Kai’s perfect blend of fantasy and realism is so surprisingly successful.
The somewhat absurd plot of the show is continuously mocked throughout the series, and nowhere is this more evident than in season three. Daniel’s wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) spends the majority of her screen-time in season one and two acting as the centre of realism for the show. As the plot grew more and more outlandish, Amanda was always there to draw direct attention to the absurdity of the situation, reinforcing the show’s unique and refreshing tongue-in-cheek tone. But Amanda takes an interesting turn in season three. Without spoiling too much, Amanda ends up being roped directly into the main plot of the series, which removes a layer of realism from the show.
Rather than snap under the weight of the fantastical nature of the show’s plot, Cobra Kai season three stands stronger than ever, offering even more character motivation and development than previous seasons. Cobra Kai is generally well-paced, moving the main plot along neatly in short 20-minute bursts while still offering plenty of humour and heart along the way, but it’s the character writing that truly shines, especially in its third run. Miguel and Johnny (William Zabka), in particular, get a great deal of screen-time in this season, allowing their characters to flourish and form realistic relationships that provide the backbone of the series going forth.
Not Everything Is Wax-On
While Cobra Kai may be one of the most refreshing shows out right now, not everything about it is perfect. This recent season brought with it quite a few character heel-turns, and while every one of them is telegraphed well in advance, the final execution still leaves a little to be desired. After the initial shock and thrill of the reveal wears off, you might be left feeling a little dissatisfied with how the character got there, especially when these characters have been so carefully constructed and built-up over the last two seasons.
Additionally, Cobra Kai has an awkward habit of forgetting its own lessons. Much of the core character development in the show centres around forgiveness and mercy, which does have its momentary payoffs throughout the series. But every so often, the core characters forget that all-important message in favour of an, admittedly excellent, action sequence. This won’t detract too much from your experience of watching the show, but the mixed morals can let down the character development for a brief moment.
Ready For Round Four?
The end of Cobra Kai season three will leave fans desperate for more. The finale manages to cap off the season perfectly while building an insurmountable amount of anticipation for the next season. It is clear that the writers know exactly where this show is going, and I, for one, could not be more excited to get there.
Words by Cameron Swan