The Layers and Genuine Storytelling in “Cobra Kai”

A few years ago, I started making the effort to expand my dialogue about storytelling by going beyond the boundaries of books and out into the mediums of TV and film. I do so by doing these analysis pieces once a while about a TV show or film that has reached a significant time in its history (i.e. series premiere, series finale, film release, anniversary of a release, etc.). Previously, I did an overview of the TV show, “Star Wars Rebels,” following its series finale. Today, in honor the release of its entire first season, I shall be entering the world of online streaming for the first time by taking a look at the latest addition to “The Karate Kid” saga that has been, rightfully, drawing in all the praise. Today, I’m talking about the YouTube Red series, “Cobra Kai.”

It’s been 34 years since the infinite showdown between Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso at the All Valley Under 18 Karate Championship. Since then, Johnny has been down in the dumps with his life constantly falling apart, whereas Daniel has gone on to oversee a successful car dealership.  In attempt to seek redemption, Johnny re-opens the Cobra Kai dojo and takes on the task of teaching several bullied teenagers how to do karate the way he was taught. In the process, the rivalry between the two men reignites, and has Daniel taking a closer look at the unbalance in his life since the loss of his beloved sensei, Mr. Miyagi.

Similar to many others, I was initially nervous when the announcement was made on how a YouTube Red series that would continue this beloved saga was in the works. “The Karate Kid” is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I was worried by how its legacy could be potentially tainted because revisiting old material is the latest trend in TV and film nowadays. When I heard that Fathom Events would be screening the first two episodes a week ahead of its release (as well of a showing of the film that started it all), I decided to go see it, hoping with all my might that it would not suck. I went away with absolutely loving the first two episodes. As of Thursday, I have since binge watched the remainder of the first season.

What got me hooked from the first two episodes alone was that it was made clear that there would not be any good guys or bad guys this time around. All the characters, including the new “karate kids,” are fully developed with layers that make them the complex people that they are. It removes the black-and-white binaries that the films frequently incorporated. As a result, it made the story richer with various shades of gray. That’s why when you see the two characters who make it to the final round of the karate tournament, you find yourself in a position of not knowing who to cheer for.

The creators remained very genuine in actually continuing the story, while leaving some room to squeeze in winks and nudges to the original film. While there were times where it was a tad excessive, it otherwise just showed nothing but love, respect, and winks of humor. Some might argue that it can get a bit corny at times, remember that this series is an extension of a coming-of-age film from the 1980’s.

The corny elements, as well as a struggling teacher striving to boost confidence in his students, reminds me a little bit of “Glee” in a way, but with karate instead of singing – and I kind of love that!

My praise, as always, does not by any means mean that “Cobra Kai” is perfect. There are some questions that I would love answers to:

  • Why set up Samantha LaRusso to be good at karate in her own right, but hardly ever show it throughout the entire season?
  • How do you explain everyone from Cobra Kai go from being white belts to black belts by the time we arrive at the tournament scenes?
  • Why is the one Asian guy we prominently see in this season the school bully?
  • Does Daniel have employees specifically hired for trimming bonsai trees all day?
  • Why wasn’t Johnny around to help raise Robbie?

Questions and flaws aside, I love “Cobra Kai.” I have since been going around to all of my fellow “Karate Kid” fans, encouraging them to watch it, and I’m already highly anticipating as to what will come next in the second season.

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