“Cobra Kai”: Good or Bad? It’s kind of like that course on Nicholas Cage in Community1 — it’s complicated.
The Karate Kid (1984) is still a great movie – and there is probably a pretty short list of movies from the 80s that can say that. If you happened to catch the Community episode in which Chang stars in a theatrical adaptation of the movie2, one can’t help but really want to watch the original movie again.
So, the trailer from Cobra Kai can’t help but inspire excited anticipation. Even though it has a lot of potential to be cheesey (it kind of was) I wanna see it! And I did – happily watching each season in a single night. The first season, for me, completely delivered, even if I found the ending a bit wanting. Sure, a lot of the characters are played in a pretty annoying way – Daniel, his cousin, and even Miguel – the main Cobra Kai student. But William Zabka does such a great job on Johnny Lawrence. He looks good in his action scenes, and it’s hard to believe he’s in his mid-50’s. He plays the part endearingly and with depth, and in a lot of ways he carries the show. And Hawk? Hawk is played so over the top with so much commitment that one can’t help but love his presence on the roster.
Also worth commending is the show’s refreshing willingness to deal with politically incorrect characters without instantly demonizing or punishing them. They are people with currently unpopular opinions and outlooks, but they are real people, and we are made to empathize with them — and it’s a pleasure to witness their nearly anachronistic dynamics play out in our presently familiar hyper-sensitive environment. Bravo.
Then there’s season 2 – a long string of disappointments. The pacing was off, the dialogue more stiff and cheesey, the characters more erratic and ridiculous. Too often, we see the characters deviate from themselves to fulfill some plot requirement (= bad writing) and too often do the characters progress only to relapse. Don’t get me wrong – relapses done artfully and with purpose have an important place, but when done poorly or without direction, or too frequently (think: Sylar from “Heroes”) they just feel like tiresome repetition meant to fill time. We can only see Daniel or Johnny over-react or watch a predictable misunderstanding escalate unresolved as a result of short tempers so many times before we are sick of it.
Sure, we can credit some of the hard-to-accept developments as a realistic portrayal of teenage drama – it’s hard to gauge how dumb a given teenager is going to react in a given emotionally elevated situation. What is realistic and what is unrealistic when you’re dealing with 16-year-olds? Hard to say, but the writers are really pushing it. Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is the behaviour of various adults in the show. But maybe that’s what they’re trying to say – those characters are still stuck in a teenaged mindset in some ways. If this was the intention, it wasn’t done quite convincingly enough. Or perhaps it’s fair, but just too hard to watch.
Luckily, I suppose, I was invested enough in the characters to see the season through. And what a payoff!
As the final episode quickly escalates to the most ridiculous high-school-wide brawl I have ever seen, my mounting disappointment became uncontrollable laughter that lasted long minutes. It was a gloriously far-fetched scene that holds its own as an entertaining action sequence. All the more so because it was filmed at a school that I’m quite familiar with.
But then it takes a (perhaps unnecessarily) dark turn, and all that mirth turns sour. It left me wondering “Who wrote this? And what were they thinking?” It really seemed like there were three separate writers that were in charge of different parts of the episode, and they never once spoke to one another. Also, they were 14 years old, and hopped up on Red Bull. Maybe that’s what it was.
Season 3? I guess so…
1. Community Season 5, Episode 2; “Introduction to Teaching”↖
2. Community Season 6, Episode 4; “Queer Studies & Advanced Waxing”↖