You Should Watch Cobra Kai
October 1st, 2020 | JH
A couple of months ago I wrote an article lamenting the loss of the summer movie season due to Covid-19 closures. I recommended a series of old blockbusters from yesteryear as a substitute for missing out on 2020’s biggest movies. Since this is Poletical, I made sure that the list contained movies that weren’t only fun and mainstream, but also politically incorrect by modern standards. Wokeness has poisoned so much of our modern entertainment that it’s hard to avoid now. From sports to movies to television series, everything is increasingly being pushed through the lens of progressive politics and wokeness reins supreme. I’ve found it difficult to find new stuff that isn’t just liberal propaganda and I thought I’d be resigned to watching less and less film and television as a result. I thought to myself, “Perhaps woke entertainment is simply the new normal and that’s how things are now?”
Then I watched Cobra Kai on Netflix.
“I’m going to teach you the style of Karate that was taught to me. A method of fighting your pussy generation desperately needs. I’m not just going to teach you how to conquer your fears. I’m going to teach you how to awaken the snake within you. And once you do that, you’ll be the one who is feared! You’ll build strength. You’ll learn discipline. And when the time is right… you’ll strike back!”
If you’re between the ages of 40 to 55 its likely you’re familiar with the Karate Kid movies. The first one came out in 1984 and was basically a Gen X Rocky. It was one of the biggest hits of the year and garnered two sequels in 1986 and 1989. The Karate Kid trilogy was quintessential 80s kitsch that had a huge cultural impact at the time.
This series picks up the story in the present day when the teenage characters are now well into their 50s. Unlike some other 80s nostalgia sequels and reboots this series stands strongly on its own two feet. I wasn’t sure how someone without prior knowledge could get into this show at first, but it is very accessible for fresh eyes. Knowledge of the backstory makes the series much richer and torques the sentiment, but the viewership numbers indicate that it’s able to appeal to a wider audience on its own merit.
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The show is an odd mix of genres and styles. It maintains the same general tone of the movies, but cranks up the comedy and karate to much cheesier levels. By the second season, hardly an episode goes by without a karate fight and a laugh-out-loud moment. The actors play things straight, however, and consequently the drama of the series stays solid throughout. The look of the show is very clean and “hallmark movie” style, which puts it at odds with a lot of the more edgy content that comes about. Make no mistake, this isn’t Breaking Bad edginess… it’s very much a PG-13 show… but by edgy I mean the “in your face” non-politically correct theme. This is a mainstream show with an anti-woke counter-culture paradigm…and it is glorious.
Johnny: Striking first is the initial step towards victory. Like when you’re at a party and you see a hot babe. You don’t wait for some other guy to go talk to her first do you?
Teenage Student: I mean…I’ve never actually been to a party so…
Johnny: Big surprise. Okay look. Striking first is about being aggressive. If you’re not aggressive you’re being a pussy and you don’t want to be a pussy, you want balls!
Teenage Student: Don’t you think you’re doing a lot of genderizing?
Teenage Student: My guidance counsellor says that certain words perpetuate the sexist worldview that could trigger…
Johnny: Quiet! From now on you won’t listen to your guidance counselor, you’ll listen to me! Now stop yapping like a little girl and give me fifty push-ups on your knuckles.
One of the surprises of the show is that it stars not Ralph Macchio, the above-mentioned Karate Kid. Instead, the story is from the perspective of William Zabka, aka Johnny Lawrence.
Johnny Lawrence was the main foil in The Karate Kid. He was the classic, blond haired, blue-eyed, popped collar, douchebag, rich kid bully that exemplifies teen movie villains throughout the 80s. Turns out that in this day and age, Johnny Lawrence is the anti-hero we never thought we’d need.
We were wrong.
We’re introduced to modern day Johnny as he stumbles out of bed with a hangover and drives to his handyman job in his beat up 80s Firebird with hair metal blasting from the speakers. After getting fired he pretty much hits rock bottom…being mistaken for a homeless man while eating a slice of pizza in a parking lot, when suddenly a fight breaks out amongst some teens and he is forced into action. His karate training kicks in and the show is up and running.
Watching Gen Z interact with an unreformed Gen X, 80s movie villain turned hero is amazing. The ideology and instincts of the 80s have now turned around 180 degrees. Kids today are facing issues that are the opposite of problems in the 1980s. While the original films tried to demonstrate things like empathy and honor and focusing your recklessness, this series is dealing with kids who are overly sensitive and terrified and neurotic. The bullying isn’t a beach fight, it’s mob ridiculing on social media. The danger isn’t kids getting carried away with emotion, its kids demoralized into having no emotion at all.
Johnny’s 80s movie villain outlook is the medicine kids today need.
Johnny: Since you joined Cobra Kai, I’ve been hard on you. I’ve called you names. I’ve humiliated you. Some of you I’ve hit…and for that…I don’t apologize. Cobra Kai is about strength. If you’re not strong on the inside you can’t be strong on the outside. Right now, you’re weak. I know that because I was you. I used to have no friends. I used to be the weirdo kid…not that weird…I still hooked up with babes and all, but the point is I wasn’t always the bad ass Sensei I am today. Just like a Cobra I had to shed my loser skin to find my true power and you guys will too!
Johnny brings in the most vulnerable kids in the neighbourhood. The types of kids that barely existed in the 80’s and if they did, he would have been the first to bully them mercilessly. Ralph Macchio’s Daniel Larusso character was supposed to be the awkward lonely kid in the first Karate Kid movie, but compared to these kids he looked like Brad Pitt.
Johnny is forced to train the customers he gets, not the customers he wants, and he begins his nerd training process with vigor and verve. Highlights include: getting the kids to punch each other in the face in order to get over their fear of flinching, taking them to a junkyard and getting them to smash stuff up to harness their aggression… and then letting junkyard dogs chase them around to get their speed up, breaking into a school pool and handcuffing a student before throwing him in the water so they learn to kick harder for fear of drowning.
"Johnny’s 80s movie villain outlook is the medicine kids today need."
Again, this is all shot like a Hallmark movie and it's very PG-13, but they push the content into some crazy territory which makes for a strangely hilarious contrast in tone.
Near the end of season one, Johnny gives the kids a pep talk at a karate tournament that ends with, “Now let’s go out there and beat the shit out of everybody!” which is quickly followed by a sanctimonious speech by the current teen karate champion…
Teen Karate Champion: As I look across this arena, I pray for every race, religion and gender, that we can all live together in peace. Please join me in a moment of silence as we strive to end intolerance in our time.
(Johnny leans over to his student)
Johnny: Kick that pansy bitch in the face.
The polemics of the show are exactly what conservatives are yearning for right now. The timing for content like this is perfect for our cultural zeitgeist and its likely we’re going to see a lot more of this sort of thing now that Hollywood is becoming all too familiar with the “Get woke, go broke” model of investment.
Beyond the obvious hook of Johnny Lawrence as anti-hero karate instructor, the show is full of great side stories and relationship drama as well. The long form episodic approach allows characters to be fully formed and developed. What were once one-note characterizations in 90 minute 80’s movies are now deeper and more nuanced characters that have motivations and backstories that fill out their makeup.
Ralph Macchio also deserves loads of credit for not only taking a backseat to his former co-star, but for presenting himself in a less than likeable light. I wouldn’t go so far as to say his Daniel Larusso character is the villain of this piece, but he is definitely not as sympathetic as he was in the original trilogy. He’s played well meaning guy, but he’s also a hot-tempered, Ray Romano-type who’s kind of vain and snobby.
In one episode, Johnny Lawrence gets drunk and climbs up onto a billboard that advertises Daniel Larusso’s luxury car dealership and proceeds to spray paint a giant dick across Daniel’s face. The rest of the episode features Daniel Larusso indignantly investigating the source of the vandalism. A lot of lesser actors would not have the humility to allow for an entire episode to revolve around having a dick spray painted on their face, but the show is way better and more comedic for taking these risks.
With more characters from the original trilogy returning in Season 3, Cobra Kai will likely carry on for quite sometime…possibly too long. Hopefully, they don’t totally nerf Johnny or have an arc in which he sees the error of his ways. The season 2 finale featuring an epic 9-minute battle royale throughout the high school, was also dangerously close to jumping the shark. In the meantime, however, if you’re in the mood for some anti-woke entertainment, enjoy this 80’s resurrection with abandon.
Both seasons are currently available on Netflix.
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