Discover more from And the Quest for Pop Culture
Nostalgia Finds Balance in 'Cobra Kai'
Cobra Kai raises an interesting question:
How on earth is a decades-later sequel to The Karate Kid this good? It’s as improbable as a teenager winning a karate tournament after only one school year’s worth of training.
Without getting into any spoilers, the fifth season just dropped on Netflix, and it’s another solid set of episodes. Granted, it’s not quite as fresh and exciting as the earlier seasons, and it’s beginning to feel a little repetitious, which tends to happen five seasons in. I’m not sure how much longer they can keep this going, but for now, Cobra Kai remains an incredibly fun time and well worth watching. It might be the most purely enjoyable show currently being made.
All Cobra Kai needed to do was cash in on nostalgia, coast on that for a couple of seasons, and then call it a day. There is indeed a ton of nostalgia throughout, but they took the time and effort to make the show good too. Overachievers.
Nostalgia alone is candy. The writers fortify Cobra Kai with plenty of heart and even a little bit of philosophical substance. They use The Karate Kid not simply to remind the audience of something they enjoyed long ago, but as the backstory that enriches everything that plays out in the present.
The two main characters are perfect foils. In the pilot, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) is a middle-aged failure who’s allowed the mistakes of his past to ruin his present. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), meanwhile, is a successful businessman who’s become disconnected from his roots, which he now uses as little more than a marketing gimmick. Events bring these two old rivals together for the first time in many years, ripping open old wounds and setting the series into motion.
Pat Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi in the original movies, is sadly no longer with us. He was the heart and soul of the franchise. The character, too, has passed away, though his presence is strongly felt. We see how essential he was to Daniel getting his life together and how much he means to the whole LaRusso family. Mr. Miyagi may be gone, but his lessons endure—provided Daniel LaRusso does his part.
The series depicts competing philosophies of martial arts: strike first vs. defense; no mercy vs. peace through strength; vengeance vs. wisdom. It also shows how holding onto grudges can infect the next generation ... and how those who are bullied can become bullies themselves once they acquire some power of their own ... and how important redemption and forgiveness are.
Ultimately, beneath all the martial arts is a show about family, and about the passing on of tradition, knowledge, and wisdom from one generation to the next.
Of course, all of the above would fall flat if Cobra Kai failed to entertain, and it hasn’t failed yet. Everyone involved seems to understand the concept of taking your work seriously but not taking yourself too seriously.
The show never disrespects its source material. It never skimps on the fight choreography, which is at times quite thrilling. And it never loses sight of the main objective—that a decades-later sequel to The Karate Kid should, above all else, be fun.
Nostalgia can work if it’s merely the springboard into something new and engaging.
Meanwhile, in the Nonfictional World …
Balance is indeed important, so here’s another historical nonfiction recommendation:
Thanks for reading And the Quest for Pop Culture! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.