It seems impossible, but it’s true. The second season of Cobra Kai – the YouTube Premium series that catches up with The Karate Kid villain Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and hero Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) decades after that fateful match at the All-Valley Karate Championship – is just as good as the first. That being said, season two, which premiered this week, is by no means a perfect product of the “peak TV” moment. It’s great television that manages to transform what could have been yet another nostalgia plot into some of the most exciting creative storytelling in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean it’s without issues.
Before we get into any of that, however, let’s recap where things stand at the end of season one. After reforming the titular Cobra Kai dojo and getting it back into the All-Valley tournament, Johnny’s star pupil, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), manages to win his match against Daniel’s student Robby (Tanner Buchanan), who just so happens to be Johnny’s estranged son. In the process, the dojo master realises that he is repeating the sins of his former teacher, John Kreese (Martin Kove), who makes a surprise appearance in the season one finale’s last shot.
Meanwhile, Daniel’s daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser), who has befriended Miguel and even started dating him, finds herself taken aback by his demonstrated nastiness and subsequently returns to the mat, practicing many of the same moves her father once taught her. All of this – Kreese’s sudden return included – makes for one hell of a season-ending cliffhanger, and Cobra Kai season two wastes no time in diving off the threshold provided into the waves below. Almost literally, in fact, as the premiere episode immediately returns to Kreese’s surprising Johnny at the Cobra Kai dojo and the two men reigniting what was lost outside the All-Valley.
For the most part, at least, because between’s Miguel’s unsportsmanlike behaviour at the tournament and Johnny’s consequential realisations about his own failings as a student-turned-teacher, Kreese isn’t exactly the first person he wants to see. As most readers will recall, the two didn’t exactly sail off into the Californian sunset together at the beginning of The Karate Kid II, when Johnny lost to Daniel despite having several not-so-legal advantages throughout their match. Frankly, Kreese tried to kill him for losing the tournament, and if it hadn’t been for Mr Miyagi’s (Pat Morita) intervention, he might have succeeded.
This baggage plays a major role throughout Cobra Kai season two, and to their credit, co-creators and showrunners Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are able to successfully thread this otherwise delicate needle throughout all ten episodes. Even when neither Johnny nor Kreese is directly involved in a given scene or situation, the presence of their mutual resentment for one another, and the conflicts its causes, are easily felt. This is great news for longtime franchise fans and series newcomers alike, as it means that a budding knowledge of the original films isn’t required. However, much like season one, the new season suffers from a lack of balance.
That is to say, the comings and goings of Miguel, Robby, Samantha and the other students of the competing Cobra Kai and Miyagi dojos deserve the spotlight more often than not. And sure, Heald, Hurwitz and Schlossberg spend a lot of time establishing their respective character arcs in order to give them all satisfactory story beats to hit. They did this with marginal success in season one, and they do it again the second time around. Unfortunately, these characters just can’t seem to shake the influence of their forebearers – which is a good and bad problem to have for a series built partially on nostalgia for pop cultural artifacts.
I mean, how cool is it for fans of The Karate Kid franchise to catch up with Daniel and Johnny all these years later? It’s a cultural phenomenon that other fanbases have been privileged enough to enjoy in recent years. For example, supporters of the original Star Wars trilogy. The thing is, these nostalgic explorations only work if enough time and attention are given to what comes next, or the “next generation,” if you will. The Force Awakens and its sequels are doing this just fine with Rey, Finn, Poe and the rest of Luke, Han and Leia’s successors. But is Cobra Kai doing the same for the dojo students struggle with their own day-to-day lives and the longstanding problems faced by Johnny and Daniel?
Judging by the first few episodes – which premiered at South By Southwest in March and were, along with the rest of the season, made available to reviewers ahead of the show’s April 24th premiere – yes. It’s an affirmative answer with a few notable asterisks, but nothing too damning to blemish Heald, Hurwitz and Schlossberg’s fantastic record with Cobra Kai. With season two, it remains one of the surprise hits of “peak TV” and original streaming content, which is overtaking traditional broadcast and cable outlets at an increasingly rapid pace. This reviewer just wishes that the nostalgia could be dialled back a bit.
Cobra Kai season 2 premiered on Wednesday, April 24th on YouTube Premium.