Cobra Kai Season 1


There’s a great scene during this first season, which debuted in 2018, where old rivals Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence find their decades long acrimony temporarily becalmed by an old Eighties rock hit. Their mutual animosity dissolves briefly to show what they once had in common and to celebrate another era. This the vein that Cobra Kai is going for. More than just a sequel to a distant film it proves to be a surprisingly effective look at generational differences and the way that events shape your life.


Like band reunions, sequels don’t usually live up to the promise because what people really want – even if they wouldn’t admit it- is more of the same. The trick which Cobra Kai largely pulls off is to repurpose the elements that made the original work and yet make it look fresh so it seems new and familiar at once. Faced with two actors now in their fifties you have to find a new way to filter the story, you have to- as one character puts it- “flip the script”.

The series started on You Tube and now shows primarily on Netflix and I must admit when I first heard about this series a few years ago I wasn’t enthusiastic and so it’s now reached season four before I’ve given it a try.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised bingeing the first season over a couple of days to find zippy 25 minute episodes that are something of an antidote to those series whose hour long episodes mosey along at a glacial pace. Its fine to set the mood but what you really want, in a world now filled with television series that different people call “must see” is a bit of action. Karate itself is fast paced and the series matches it.

We catch up with the iconic film’s two rivals thirty four years on to find life has treated them somewhat differently. The big surprise is how the series focusses far more initially on Johnny Lawrence, sketching in some richer background for a character who was a bully in the film. Without changing his aggressive nature the ten episodes succeed in making him a flawed hero who we can root for as an increasing number of things go wrong for him (almost comically so at times) forcing him to re-evaluate and re-open the Cobra Kai dojo. It is then easy to understand why a bunch of misfit kids whom he starts to teach are enthused by his “strike first” approach. It’s these so called losers who sign up after seeing how Lawrence has transformed neighbour Miguel to fight back against bullies.

This is a scenario beloved of sports films aplenty but I’ve rarely seen it work so well with such an edgy character in the driving seat. Lawrence sees in these downtrodden kids his own past and he only knows one way to overcome it. William Zabka’s performance is superb throughout as Lawrence goads and pushes his new pupils with less than PC statements yet it cuts through their difficult lives giving them self belief they’ve never had before. This change is embodied in a character called Eli whom we first meet as a shy conservatively attired wallflower but who after sessions at the dojo becomes a blue spiky haired bolt of energy naming himself Hawk.  

Conversely as the season progresses Daniel LaRusso, the wide -eyed hero of the films becomes somewhat unlikeable seeming to have an irrational vendetta against Lawrence’s attempts to re-open the Dojo.  LaRusso tries some devious methods to trip up his former rival yet the fact is they share a lot in common as that crucial scene mentioned at the top shows. Ralph Macchio thus plays against type yet in a way that you can believe would happen to this character.

The dichotomy is mirrored in each of their young proteges. Fired up by Lawrence’s mantra and newly found confidence, Miguel becomes less likeable and more like his Sensai as the season progresses. Lawrence’s estranged badly behaved son Robbie, under LaRusso’s tutelage, learns to centre and channel his energies into the art as ka Russo becomes a surrogate father to his rival’s son. Thankfully the idea that both sides are unaware of these things is not kept up too long with a dramatic explosion when all is revealed. It says a lot about the effectiveness of the scripts that the viewer will find themselves sympathising with just about everyone!

There is a surprising amount of coincidence involved with an almost soap opera style intertwining of relationships that if you analysed too much would seem unlikely but  works because of the speed of developments and the commitment of the actors. There are lots of fun moments with shout outs to the Eighties in general and Karate Kid in particular but you can actually watch this without any prior knowledge of that movie as there are helpful clips in the form of flashbacks and more than enough information to tell you about both main character’s histories.  

The season ends with – what else- the latest iteration of that same tournament  which formed the backdrop to the film’s climax. Somewhat predictably we end up with Miguel against Robbie in the final bout which replays elements of the original right down to the `crane` pose and Miguel using somewhat illegal moves to assure victory just as Lawrence did decades ago. Perhaps the ultimate message is that however much we might hope otherwise new generations are destined to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

The first seasons of good series are often the best and I can see how future outings might dilute what is established here, repeating the tournament memes, swapping allegiances and partners each year yet these are great characters and it will be worthwhile seeing what happens next especially given the clffhanger appearance at the very end. A fifth season was recently confirmed so they must be getting something right.

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