REVIEW: ‘Cobra Kai’ Season One Strikes Hard

When it was first announced that a series sequel to The Karate Kid would be in development through YouTube Red, I wrote it off as a fun idea, but not something that would carry any weight or be anything more than just a nostalgia kick. As trailers first began debuting online, my expectations were still set low. Personally, having as of yet not indulged in other YouTube Red series, Cobra Kai still seemed more like a fan series that was fortunate enough to feature two actors from the original film. Now, two days after its premiere online, I’m happy to announce that Cobra Kai greatly surpasses my expectations. It serves not only as a worthy series sequel to The Karate Kid, but as a series that stands on its own and has plenty of room to grow into something more.

Taking place decades after The Karate Kid, Cobra Kai focuses on the adult lives of Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and his former high school rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Down on his luck and recently unemployed, Johnny decides to reopen the infamous Cobra Kai karate dojo, after becoming inspired by a young neighbor he saves from a pack of high school bullies. While this set up seems very close to the events that unfolded in The Karate Kid, other elements come into play making this new rendition feel unique to its predecessor.

The strength of Cobra Kai lies with its characters. Not only are Daniel and Johnny both well fleshed out, having evolved well past their former teenage selves, but the series serves up some new and compelling characters as well. The series wisely chooses not to focus entirely on the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny, even though that continues to be a driving force, but we are also introduced to the children of Daniel, the son of Johnny, and the teens that eventually become Johnny’s students. The characters that stand out are Daniel’s daughter Amanda (Mary Mouser), Johnny’s estranged son Robby Keane (Tanner Buchanan), and Johnny’s premiere pupils Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) and Aisha (Nichole Brown). Sometimes the connections between characters seem all too convenient, but they do allow for stories to be told dealing with bullying, peer pressure, old relationships long dead, divorce, deadbeat parents, and romance.

Knowing full well what it is, Cobra Kai doesn’t pretend to not be a sequel to The Karate Kid. The series features plenty of callbacks to the original film, some taken seriously and some played off as jokes. With that in mind, the series successfully tells a new story from a unique angle. It aims to teach a few lessons, but doesn’t always wrap things up with a neat little bow. As the series progresses it even becomes difficult to know who to side with, or if sides should even be chosen. The characters and their dilemmas are complex, and aren’t as black and white as they initially seem.

Cobra Kai feels like a series that can easily fit on television among other teen/family dramas, though its placement on YouTube Red does allow for a bit of vulgarity at times which sometimes helps the series, but also sometimes feels out of place. I would be cautious viewing this with children, but the vulgarity isn’t constant, and it’s not like you’re watching a Scorcese flick. In fact, a lot of the predicaments and situations displayed in this series serve as something teens and young adults should watch and view as relatable. Cobra Kai aims to be both a new show teens can enjoy and a fun throwback for people who grew up watching The Karate Kid.

Cobra Kai is fun and heartwarming, and equal parts corny and compelling, with some well choreographed fight scenes. Fans of The Karate Kid should be pleased to know that this series captures the spirit of the original film well and proves there are more worthwhile stories to tell in the lives of these characters. I couldn’t have been more impressed with the story the first season delivered and the strong characters that reside within it. The end of the season leaves you wanting more, and appropriately leaves numerous plot threads on the table to hopefully be tied up in season two.

The first two episodes of Cobra Kai are currently available to be viewed for free on YouTube [link], but a YouTube Red subscription is required to binge the entire season, which costs a monthly fee of $9.99, with a first month free trial offer. If you’re a fan of The Karate Kid, definitely head over there and check it out. You won’t regret it.