Strike First, Strike Hard: Netflix’s Cobra Kai

(Spoilers WARNING)

Through its comedic satire, intense karate scenes, and the occasional teenage romance, Netflix’s “The Karate Kid” spin-off  “Cobra Kai” brings us the redemption story we never thought we wanted. The binge-worthy series is a melting pot of students dedicated to helping their sensei achieve his goal of returning the Cobra Kai dojo to its former glory. 

Those who grew up in the early ’80s and ’90s remember “The Karate Kid” as the epitome of stay-at-home movies, bringing together teen angst and an unforgettable underdog story into a two-hour-long film. It was in this movie that Cobra Kai’s main protagonist, Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka, was first introduced on the big screen. However, Johnny was not always the “cool” sensei he is now; he was the star pupil of the Cobra Kai dojo and the antagonist of “The Karate Kid” movie. Instead, in 1984, we followed Daniel LaRusso, played by Ralph Macchio, a 17-year-old boy who moved to Los Angeles and often fought with the Cobra Kai students, especially Johnny. Daniel later got recruited by Mr. Miyagi who took Daniel under his wing and taught him his style of karate. Later, when Daniel and Johnny faced off at the All-Valley tournament, Daniel finished Johnny off with one final blow to the chin.

34 years later, “Cobra Kai” opens with a beaten-down Johnny Lawrence, who is struggling to deal with the responsibilities of being an adult and father. Meanwhile, Daniel has a wonderful family, a beautiful home, and runs a successful car dealership. The juxtaposition of these two characters sets the tone of the series when Johnny must go to Daniel’s car dealership in order to retrieve his recently damaged car. The interaction between the two rivals after all these years lights a fire in Johnny to reopen the Cobra Kai dojo. Despite numerous obstacles and countless attempts by Daniel LaRusso to shut down the dojo, Cobra Kai consistently manages to prevail, but not without consequences.

Since its release, “Cobra Kai” has become a pop-culture sensation, not only because it continues “The Karate Kid” saga, but because the series finds the perfect balance between nostalgic entertainment and excellent dramatic plotting. By flipping the script on the original Karate Kid story, the series challenges how you see the whole story and creates an experience that leaves viewers constantly wanting more. Whether it is the complicated love triangle between the characters or epic school fight scenes that put all other teen drama movies to shame, you simply can’t stop watching. 

While I must agree with GN student Mariam Rizvi, ’21, who claims, “the show is not representative of teenagers in real life as teenagers don’t randomly break out into karate moves over minor disagreements,” it makes up for this flaw through its continuous character development as each teacher and student alike struggle with trauma and past mistakes but slowly overcome them as the show progresses. Despite its slow pacing at certain points in the plot, during which the background information of certain characters almost seems excessive, the show continues to entice viewers through its intense battle royales that are truly brilliant at building anticipation. 

So would I recommend this TV show? Absolutely! Even with its flaws, “Cobra Kai” has mastered the very essence of entertainment through its intricate choreography and camera work that continues to honor the original “Karate Kid” movies. Between three seasons and a total of thirty episodes you certainly won’t have any problem finishing the entire show in one weekend as each episode is filled with engaging scenes that will only leave you wanting more. If you’re still debating whether you should watch this show, just take the word of GN student Harry Llobrera, ‘21, who, when asked if he would recommend this show to his peers, responded “Yes, 110%.”