'Cobra Kai' Is Now On Netflix: Should Your Inner 'Karate Kid' Binge It?

Cobra Kai Jacob Bertrand Eli Moskowitz Hawk William Zabka Johnny Lawrence Xolo Maridueรฑa Miguel Diaz Netflix YouTube Red YouTube Premium
Image by Guy D'Alema / Netflix
“Cobra Kai” is now on Netflix, which means yours truly has finally gotten a chance to dig into the “Karate Kid” sequel series. The show initially streamed on YouTube Red (turned YouTube Premium). Ever since seeing the trailer and covering news about “Cobra Kai” on CinemaBlend, I have been curious to see it, and now I am obsessed.

The first two seasons on Netflix have proven extraordinarily worthy of the wait. “Cobra Kai” picks up in the present-day, well-after the repercussions of Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny’s famous fight in the first “Karate Kid” movie. The now-Netflix original does not pull any punches about its hero and villain’s disparate destinations.

Can there be redemption for a high school bully? “Cobra Kai” wades into the question by leaning into the truth of where life would practically take the “Karate Kid” characters. Johnny is struggling in every sense. He does not have a relationship with his son, and he loses his job. Add to that, Johnny (William Zabka) is still a (charismatic) jerk.

He is rude to his new neighbor, the friendly and sweet teenager, Miguel (Xolo Maridueรฑa). From there, Johnny denies the reality of asthma and peanut allergies, among other things. Thankfully, Miguel gently tries to enlighten him on these ignorant takes. It is on that note, “Cobra Kai” almost instantly gets you rooting for Johnny and Miguel to be a part of each other’s lives because it is clear that they need to be.

Johnny is bitter about losing that fight to Daniel decades ago in “The Karate Kid,” and it has undoubtedly impacted his life. He remains angry at his rival, who has not turned into the cocky guy that the “Cobra Kai” teasers indicated. Daniel is still a nice person, just an incredibly successful one, which bothers Johnny.

For his part, Johnny has fallen on and embraced hard times. By the end of “Cobra Kai,” Johnny’s latest set of circumstances rally him to his make-or-break point, and he opts for the former. The minute I watched the trailer for “Cobra Kai,” I wanted to see it, and am undoubtedly not the only Netflix subscriber grateful to have it streaming there.

The first two seasons of “Cobra Kai” more than lived up to expectations, and with the brief runtimes (30 minutes) of the episodes, the series makes for a breezy binge. It has a strong sense of self, and the momentum builds with the appropriate combination of genre staples, viewers know and love.

For instance, Johnny’s Walt Kowalski (“Gran Torino”) routine seems destined to soften, and “Cobra Kai” introduces a wrinkle with Johnny also having a son that could contend for his attention. All told, I am impressed by the show’s various intricacies.

Cobra Kai Daniel LaRusso Ralph Macchio Netflix YouTube Red YouTube Premium
Image by Jace Downs / Netflix

“Cobra Kai” is one of the best shows I have watched this year. The dialogue is sharp, and as much as it zeroes in on the cruelty of humanity, it offers a beautiful ray of light in Miguel, Daniel, and even Johnny. The one-time antagonist’s battle for redemption provides many outstandingly moving moments.

Michael Zabka seamlessly picks up Johnny Lawrence with scene-stealing nuance, while Ralph Macchio does not miss a beat reprising Daniel LaRusso. Their performances give added heft to the poignant flashbacks interspersed throughout the series, and Episode 5 provides a moving nod to the iconic Mr. Miyagi. It had been a while since a show left me this upbeat after watching it.

To its credit, “Cobra Kai” shows respect for the dueling philosophies of Daniel and Johnny as well as fatherhood and mentorship in general. There are merits to each of their schools of thought, and the series provides robust platforms for Johnny and Daniel in a way that makes neither the villain.

Television is far more interesting when things in a less obvious fashion. People are more complicated than such a cut and dry conclusion. The writers also do an outstanding job of setting up its various characters and setting up an assortment of directions for them to head.

Let it be said that I could have never predicted where a lot of the character development takes them, and the evolution of that journey is incredibly well-done. Thanks to series creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg, “Cobra Kai” is the only show in recent memory to have created a plethora of ways available to take its story, and all of them be winners.

What stands out is that whatever outcome some plot lines take, it always serves the story. In many ways, what Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg have created is a beautifully crafted, organically perpetuating machine. Not since “The Lying Game” has this avid TV viewer seen a show involve youth and adults in such a rewarding way.

There is the feel-good quality of “Glee” while balancing “Smallville’s” sense of nostalgic storytelling amid genre norms. “Cobra Kai” is an enrapturing fantasy where bullies get knocked down, and while utterly unrealistic considering the lack of legal consequences, Netflix is giving viewers the chance to dream.

Rating: 10/10

The first two seasons of “Cobra Kai” are streaming on Netflix. Season 3 is heading to the streaming giant in 2021.