When YouTube decided to revive The Karate Kid as a TV show, it was met with justified skepticism. But just like Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) did not see Daniel’s (Ralph Macchio) crane kick coming at the 1984 All-Valley Karate Championship so was the world not ready for how good Cobra Kai would be. Going into Season 2, the surprise factor is gone, and expectations are through the roof. So how does Cobra Kai respond? After viewing the first two episodes at SXSW, it’s clear it does so by striking first, striking hard, and having no mercy for your free time, because you’re going to want to binge this show as soon as it hits YouTube.
At the end of Season 1, we witnessed a flash from the past as a member of Cobra Kai illegally hurts a student of Miyagi-dojo during a karate tournament. Only this time, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) took the first place trophy for the infamous dojo instead of the other way around, leaving Johnny drunk and depressed he turned a sweet kid into a jerk, and that his own son got hurt in the process.
So how does Cobra Kai follow that up? With an explosive scene between Johnny and the very much alive worst-sensei-in-the-world John Kreese (Martin Kove). Showrunners Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg waste no time giving the fans what they want, from character reunions that rival Game of Thrones, to all the 80’s music you’d need in a 30-minute episode, to references to the Karate Kid films that will make you grin from ear-to-ear.
What made Cobra Kai so good, however, was that it wasn’t just about nostalgia, as the younger cast is just as interesting and likable as the older characters. Because the surprise factor from the first season is gone, Cobra Kai doesn’t need to give us any huge developments but simply give more of what we loved the first time around. This season’s mantra seems to be “Don’t fix what isn’t broken,” and it works. We dig deeper into Johnny’s regrets and his desperate wish for redemption, while Daniel LaRusso is now the underdog trying to defeat the dominating dojo after he decides to reopen Miyagi-Do. Seeing the Miyagi-Do set perfectly replicated is nothing short of magical, and production designers Ryan Berg and Moore Brian deserve huge credit for bringing the dojo back to life without missing a detail.
Macchio and Zabka are excellent, going deeper into their characters’ trauma and struggle to escape their past, while also exploring more of their relationship to the younger cast. Kove is as terrifying as ever, even if there’s a hint of regret in the old sensei’s eyes. And of course, the kids are more than alright. While there is more dramatic weight to the story, Cobra Kai never loses sight of the fun, and we get one hell of an entertaining start to the season as we could expect, including more over-the-top training schemes from both dojos, and more Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) simply being Hawk. Those who were scared of possible changes in character at the end of last season need not to worry, as the show takes great care in making all the characters feel as grounded and realistic as they were in Season 1.
In an era of endless reboots and revivals, Cobra Kai is the rare show that takes a stand against nostalgia and offers a grim reality where we don’t manage to get over our heyday and our past traumas. Meanwhile, it continues the “no such thing as bad students, only bad teachers” lessons of Mr. Miyagi, and it is a treat to watch the legacy characters struggling to find their place in a world they no longer recognize while providing plenty of laughs because of it.
What’s great this time around is that the show has such a wide ensemble, this season gives time to side characters that were underserved last season, the standout being Courtney Henggeler’s Amanda LaRusso, who was the sole voice of reason last season, and gets more time to shine in these first episodes. They also introduce some new and wacky characters that have the potential to become fan favorites by the end of the season.
While the two episodes screening at SXSW barely scratch the surface of what the show is teasing for the rest of the season, it is one hell of an appetizer before the main course. The episodes are as funny as ever, the music is as head-banging cool as you want it to be, the themes are as deep as any prestige drama, and most importantly, Cobra Kai is just plain fun. The ending of Episode 2 only makes it harder to wait a month before the entire Season 2 premieres on YouTube. In the meantime, it is hard to resist the urge to do some karate at home when no one is watching, thinking to yourself you are perfectly able to do a crane kick while listening to Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best Around” while in reality, you’re more likely to be the one kid to be put in a body bag.
Cobra Kai Season 2 premieres on YouTube Premium on April 24.