Cobra Kai (Netflix, 2021)
My fiancé Jim was really into the Karate Kid movies, and he discovered Cobra Kai when it was still a series of short episodes on YouTube. We binge-watched every episode together on Netflix. When Season three arrived we'd been counting down the days.
Ralph Macchio and William Zabka reprise their roles from the first Karate Kid movie in 1984. 34 years later, their characters cross paths again and discover that they are still bitter rivals. Danny LaRusso (Macchio) has gone on to considerable success as a car salesman, running a multi-garage franchise with his wife Samantha (Mary Mouser).
They have two kids and are a happy and stable nuclear family. The years have been kind to Danny, but he still misses his sensei and yearns to get back to karate. Reopening Miyagi Dojo enables him to do just this but it introduces tension into his business and his marriage, elements of his life that are themselves closely entwined.
Things have been far harder for Johnny Lawrence (Zabka). His marriage failed, he's barely been a father to his son Robby and his temper has now got him fired from his job as a handyman. Trying to turn his life in a more positive direction, he reconnects with his karate training, starts a Dojo and becomes a mentor and father figure to a teenager, Miguel, who lives with his mother in the same apartment block as Johnny.
By season three of Cobra Kai, the rivalry between Johnny and Daniel has taken many twists and turns. It has also drawn in their children and the young people to whom they act as mentors. At the end of season two this bubbled over in a particularly violent way, and season three opens with a pause for reflection as Miguel lies unconscious in hospital.
The nature of masculinity and how it can be harnessed for strength and dignity is a central theme of this show, with both Danny and Johnny struggling to empower young people through karate as effectively as Mr Miyagi did in the original movie. It felt like, by season three, both of them had strayed far from the core tenets of karate. Violence was being used for all manner of reasons and spilling out everywhere, rather than karate being used purely for defensive purposes as intended.
The first two seasons of Cobra Kai focused a great deal on Johnny, and Zabka was genuinely hilarious as he tried to grapple with modern masculinity. His desire for self-improvement, and plenty of backstory delivered via flashback scenes, made him likeable. The viewer learns much more about his troubled childhood and when we see how that has come forward in the decades that followed in the form of broken relationships and work insecurity, there is plenty of sympathy for this central character.
Season three brought Danny more to the fore again, which was very welcome, and featured a trip to Japan for business purposes that also enabled him to reconnect with Mr Miyagi's heritage, his own karate training and some of the people he met during Karate Kid 2.
I loved Cobra Kai and enjoyed the first two seasons for their humour and sincerity of emotion. Season three was more serious, as the consequences of the violence erupting out of the Dojos caught up with everyone a little bit. Flashback scenes involving Johnny's former sensei John Kreese shows that no one is born bad but circumstances (especially here the trauma of war) form us in ways we don't always like in ourselves.
Thank you so much for reading my review of Cobra Kai. Please comment below on any TV show you'd recommend. My next post will be a Why Not Wednesday. See you then.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my article about Creativity and Darkness (Genius and Inspiration in Horror Fiction) here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of Psycho by Robert Bloch here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my article about female leadership in fantasy fiction (The King is Dead, Long Live the Queen) here.