Dangerously close to rampant melodrama, Cobra Kai’s most anticipated season to date just about keeps its fast-moving feet on the ground.
Who knew that this YouTube originated series would turn out to be such a pop cultural success? Maybe we should have seen it coming, given how popular and beloved The Karate Kid (and to an extent its sequels) remains over 35 years on. Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi permeated the cultural consciousness of the 1980s to the same degree as Indiana Jones or the Terminator or Marty McFly. In a cheesy, all-American way, they extolled the virtue of Eastern philosophy on Western coming of age tropes, with Daniel LaRusso finding the personal balance in his life, and the martial art that developed his confidence, that allowed him to discover his way in the world. The sequels tweaked the formula but, much like the Rocky pictures of the same era, the core idea of The Karate Kid remained the touchstone.
Hence why Cobra Kai used the central conflict of that original movie as part of its concept, yet joyously flipped the script. This wasn’t a show, across the first season, that was directly about the grown-up Daniel LaRusso, the handsome All-Valley champion and wax on-wax off mentee of the sage Miyagi, but rather the teenager he bested in the final – Johnny Lawrence. Cobra Kai’s first principle lay in examining what happened to the loser, the kid who didn’t win the day and win the girl, and pick up The Karate Kid mythos of lost father figures around a broken, angry, disillusioned figure who re-adopts the misguided, first strike mantra of his cruel mentor and tries to use it to regain self-respect. The surprising brilliance of that first season is how we came to understand Cobra Kai as a series that introduced practical shades of grey within the delineated good/bad dichotomies of a simpler time.
While still entertaining, the series has lost a little of that as it expanded the idea, and the ensemble, into what the third season represents: fun, silly but overblown melodrama with only sparks of self-referential awareness that keep it grounded.