Cobra Kai is another show that Netflix picked up and delivered to us before it disappeared into oblivion. It first aired on YouTube Originals. (I have to admit that before I researched this, I didn’t even know YouTube produced its own shows!)
My 11 year old son and I just binged on three seasons of Cobra Kai. Now we have a (long?) wait until Season 4, but we will try to console ourselves with another Netflix binge most probably.
I am a terrible mother in that respect. I allow these escapes from real life maybe too often. But if now is not the right time to escape, I don’t know when (sighs, exasperated)
These series become an experience we share, like watching The Walking Dead during the first wave of Covid 19 Lockdowns.
I am a bit worried about creating such passive experiences, as opposed to, I don’t know, rock climbing… but really, do most of us rock climb on the weekends? I don’t know, maybe…
We certainly don’t in our family.
Ok, back to Cobra Kai. (no spoilers)
I Was a Cobra Kai Sceptic
When my son (who is on summer vacation here in New Zealand) suggested that we watch Cobra Kai together, I was skeptical. I loved The Karate Kid as any other child who grew up in the 80s. I hated the bully, rooted for the main guy and of course wished Mr. Miyagi was my neighbor.
I was a little bit in love with Ralph Macchio. I even took karate lessons for about a month, but it was not as inspiring as I had hoped. Although, I probably gave up when it got hard…because…well, I choose easy. (hint: the name of my blog)
It Can’t Be Good. Or Can It?
A spin off series? With the characters who are now older than me? And who we haven’t seen in anything much since then? That cannot be good.
Or can it?
Oh, yes, yes it can!
This series is a lesson in storytelling, because for the entire Season 1 I wondered – why does this work?
Well, in a nutshell… just like with anything else we watch or read – it is enjoyable. The theme of redemption and the rise of the underdog is universal.
And we care. We care for all the characters, even those who start of as not so endearing, like Johnny Lawrence (aka, the bully who Daniel beat in The Karate Kid I by using the crane kick)
Unlike the movies in the 80s, there are no clear cut good or evil characters.
We constantly flashback to the scenes from the Karate Kid movies, but the backstory of Johnny Lawrence now unfolds before us.
If we are in our 40s we love it how he did not succumb to the modern technology. He does not have a Facebook account and when he does open one, he doesn’t realize he can have it both on his phone and on his computer. The first thing he googles when he sets up the internet on his ancient, second hand laptop is “hot babes.”
There are girls doing karate, too and they do it well, something we did not see in the 80s. Lawrence reminds us of that by pointing out there can be no girls in his dojo. He, of course, changes his mind. The girls are no longer there to be defended and protected. They can take care of themselves.
There is an enthusiastic, cute and bullied new kid on the block Miguel who attaches himself to Lawrence just like Daniel did with Mr. Miyagi. In a way, Lawrence gets his own LaRusso to teach. A nice spin on the original story.
As a sensei, Lawrence manages to inspire, albeit in a different way than Mr. Miyagi.
Unlike Miyagi in the movies, Lawrence also has himself to find. He is in no way a wise man. Which we can identify with on a much more humane level. And it works.
As you may have guessed, yes, Lawrence is my favorite character. He is also a central character, more so than Daniel LaRusso. Who is still just as likable as he was back in the 80s.
There are No Bad Guys in Cobra Kai
We begin to like Lawrence so much, that the new bad guy has to be introduced, Lawrence’s former sensei from the movies, John Kreese. We get some of his sob backstory, too but we don’t like him anyway. Much.
Throughout the series we are fed with the notion that the good is redeemed, All the characters grow. And they do it in a way that is fun and entertaining. And most of all – relatable.
(we don’t need to go into how they all become so good at karate in such a short time)
Daniel LaRusso’s daughter Sam, Hawk aka the awkward kid with the lip, Lawrence’s son Robby (who started as a troublesome, good for nothing kid and transformed into a great guy and for awhile my favorite character), Lawrence himself and even Daniel LaRusso who always leans back on the everlasting wisdom of Mr. Miyagi.
I sucked it all up.
I got my son to watch The Karate Kid I & II so that he can be in on the references and it was clear just how much more Cobra Kai is a 21st century creation. The kids are much better at standing up for themselves, they have a way with words, they talk to adults in a Ferris Bueller kind of a way. And they know more. Much more.
But some concepts are everlasting.
We want the underdog to win. We love to see the transformation. It makes us believe we, too, can change.
And Cobra Kai delivers this beautifully.
As a result, my son and I are going to take Tai Chi Classes on the weekends outside the front Dunedin Chinese Gardens. I wanted to do it a few months ago, when I noticed people in front of the gardens moving rhythmically. It was magical.
“We should have joined months ago,” I said.
“But we couldn’t have”, he said. “Because I would not have been interested.”
See, the show has inspired something else for us to do together which is always a good thing. Who says good can’t come from watching television?
He wants a bonsai tree. And he also wants to take karate at some point.
Hey.. maybe it is not too late for me to have another go.