By Chris Davis | 11 September 2018
How many people were compelled to step into a dojo for the first time after seeing The Karate Kid? Thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions?
Martial arts movies make us want to do martial arts. Plain and simple.
A decade before anyone knew what the Octagon was or saw a UFC pay-per-view, people in droves were putting on gis and learning how to defend themselves because they were inspired by Daniel LaRusso crane-kicking Johnny Lawrence’s face off.
And let’s be honest, Mr. Miyagi is to karate what Rocky Balboa is to boxing. We’re talking about a purely fictional character who somehow embodies the best aspects of a martial art and got people into it.
After a couple of shoddy sequels and a couple of even shoddier reboots, The Karate Kid has finally gotten a follow-up worthy of the original with the YouTube Red series called Cobra Kai. Yes, Ralph Macchio and William Zabka are back and, yes, it’s great. The first season came out this past May and there’s a second season scheduled for 2019.
If you’re not already sold, here are seven spoiler-free reasons why you should watch Cobra Kai and, possibly, buy a bonsai tree.
Paying homage to the original source material and, at the same time, creating something new is a difficult thin-line to walk, but you could call this show Nik Wallenda because it nails that tightrope act. Wallenda? He tightrope walked across Niagara Falls, remember?
Anyway, there’s enough hat-tips and head-nods to moments like “wax on, wax off” to suffice franchise fans, and they have both cleverly worked them into the show and not overused them to make you roll your eyes.
Arguably, what’s the most engaging is this different spin on what you thought you knew from the 1984 classic. It’s not cut and dry who was the real hero or villain at the All-Valley tournament when they were teen rivals or even now.
Maybe they were more alike than they knew and maybe they’re too alike now. And their conflict gets interestingly mirrored in the new crop of karate pupils. One thing is for sure, Mr. Miyagi was a badass and both could have learned more from him.
It’s a legitimately funny show. While the movies had moments of levity, this new series is classified under “comedy” for a reason. Created by and headlining the writing are Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg who gave us, the hilarious and underappreciated, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and it’s subsequent sequels, and Josh Heald who wrote, the similarly underrated, Hot Tub Time Machine. At its core, it is a comedy written by comedians, but there is action, there is drama, and it is sort-of family-friendly.
3. Three Dimensional Characters
Besides punchiness in the dialogue, the overall tone of the show is fleshed out with good guys having bad elements and bad guys having good elements. In a word, it feels “real”. Characters make mistakes as often as they save the day, they’re virtuous as they are petty, and they evolve both positively and negatively.
It’s like a way less extreme version of Eastbound & Down or Vice Principals. Ultimately, it’s high stakes between small town adversaries and everyone around them gets sucked into it.
Obviously, fists and feet do fly. It is a show about learning and using karate, after all. It may not be the main focus like a Walker, Texas Ranger show where you’re guaranteed to see a brawl in the finish out each episode, but there’s a few frenetic fisticuffs sequences throughout that do have stakes and advance the story.
Hey, take my word for it and the Primetime Emmy Awards as longtime stuntman Hiro Koda was nominated for his stunt coordination for this series. I mean, they lost the award to Glow, but Glow is pretty awesome.
5. Anti-Bullying Message
Bullies suck. While many trends from the 80’s have disappeared, high school bullies - sadly - seem to be as vibrant as ever. The Karate Kid has some timeless takeaways about standing up for yourself, gaining confidence, bettering oneself, and so on to deal with the rigors of bullies.
Cobra Kai carries this same message and takes it a step further into the danger of becoming a bully too. Also, the array of bullying displayed on Cobra Kai is broader in scope than the movie that bullies are more than a fist fight- it can be verbal, emotional, and online harassment as well, and that’s just as wrong.
6. Hard Work Pays off
One of the most redeeming aspects of The Karate Kid is it shows hard work pays off. There are too many action movies or movies in general that have one tough montage and then the hero is ready. That’s unrealistic.
It’s workout after workout, days into months where change happens. Dedication is required to improve both physically and mentally; whether it’s a martial art, a sport, or a craft. Cobra Kai follows the same path of illustrating that these characters are putting in the effort on a regular basis to get better. It’s a subtle journey, but it’s a meaningful one.
No one is simply a natural at something. Practice makes perfect and it’s not easy.
The actors are good. It should come as no surprise, Macchio and Zabka are quite good at playing LaRusso and Lawrence. More so, playing antagonists to the other. It’s possible people could have written either off as a fixture of the 80’s, but both have appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows since.
This isn’t even Macchio’s only show, dude is on HBO’s The Deuce as well. There are a lot of talented actors that round out the show like Courtney Henggeler, Diora Baird, Dan Ahdoot, and, even, Ed Asner. As for the high schoolers, honestly, they’re all great and believable with Xolo Maridueña stealing much of the show as Lawrence’s protege Miguel Diaz.
Last but not least, a little spoiler, that doesn’t ruin anything and should make you want to watch the show more- Martin Kove is set to return as the infamous John Kreese for season two!