I watched a shit-load of TV in December and have an extra-heavy post coming up soon to cover all of that. First, however, something that would normally go into my January list requires immediate attention.
Netflix did the world a solid by releasing season three of Cobra Kai on Friday. I watched the first two episodes in the gap between the CFP semifinals games that night. Then I crammed the remaining eight into my Saturday. It was the highlight of my weekend!
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS
First off, YES!!!! You know when you find something cool and it continues and you fear that it might start to suck? Well season three does not suck. For sure, it starts off a little slower and less even than the first two seasons. But once it finds its footing, it hums along equally as well as seasons one and two.
Before I get to details, I wanted to speak about the show at the macro level.
There are many things that I love, love, love about Cobra Kai. At the top of the list is how well balanced the show is. And I mean that in many ways. The writers do a brilliant job of balancing cheese and schlock and over-the-topness with moments of genuine heart and emotion. The serious moments are just serious enough to bring the show back to center without being shmaltzy or sanctimonious. And all the moments of balance between characters and within the plot are genius. There are always forces that are opposing each other, and the moment something gets either too comfortable or too stressful, another element comes in and counters those feelings.
That balance is what makes it all work. It never veers too far in one direction for too long, which would be easy to do for writers that were trying too hard.
For example, at first I thought sending Daniel LaRusso to Tokyo and Okinawa was a mistake. It seemed like a needless distraction. And when Kumiko and Chozen from The Karate Kid Part II made appearances, I really thought it was going to go off the rails. You know what? It really worked well! The two Japanese characters brought in useful elements for the advancement of the overall story.
Two examples from the Okinawa storyline that show how well this show is written. When Kumiko told Daniel that she had never married because, after him, no other man had fought to the death for her, I was worried. This seemed like a clear chance for a guy who is facing the destruction of his business to give into a moment of weakness when he runs into an old flame. Especially one who lays that on him (I felt really bad for Kumiko, although she seemed to accept her fate happily). A lessor show puts them in bed together. Cobra Kai allowed them to speak to each other as adults and find a genuine, emotional connection to each other than had nothing to do with sex. More on that angle in a moment.
The interactions between Daniel and Chozen were also well done. Their first extremely awkward interaction was terrific. Then, as they were forced together, there were plenty of opportunities for things to go off the rails. Chozen, after living with the humiliation of his fight with Daniel for 35 years, could easily be a total dick, force a confrontation, and get his revenge. And the story does slide toward that direction. Until Daniel earns his respect and we see that Chozen really was changed by their 1980s encounter and is no longer a thug, but rather a guardian of Miyagi-do karate. There was plenty of cheesiness to the resolution of their story. I mean, it was a little too convenient, right? But the scenes are done so well that you forget about the cheese and enjoy the heart of those moments. There was a little Ted Lasso to the Okinawa trip.
Johnny Lawrence remains the best character on the show. William Zabka is just sooo good at bringing all these layers to Johnny. His “you can be a badass without being an asshole” ethos is one a lot of folks should learn to live by. And Johnny constantly digging holes and then climbing out is super compelling.
As with Daniel and Kumiko, Johnny got to confront an old love. Elisabeth Motherfucking Shue shows up as Ali Mills! I knew it was coming but it was still a jolt to see her on the screen. Johnny coming clean to her about his life and their day at the carnival together was great. They came far closer to getting physical than Daniel and Kumiko did, but that phone call that interrupted them was perfectly timed. And it set up the look on Johnny’s face later when Ali learned he was dating someone and asked him about her. Johnny may have had an urge to get the girl from his past and reclaim all his mid–80s glories, but he has grown enough to realize the smart move is to chase the future with Carmen. Well done!
By the way, any time you get Daniel and Johnny together with Amanda LaRusso and Johnny’s date, it works great. Amanda getting a few drinks in her and calling people out for their petty, 30-year-old shit, is outstanding.
As for all the kids, there were some kickass fights. Especially the one in the LaRusso house in the final episode. I have teenagers and I’m starting to fear them having a party when we are gone. Can you imagine coming home to your house being utterly destroyed by a three-way karate fight!?!?
Again, the kids display the show’s balance. Miguel, Sam, Robby, and Tory form a nice love…square? Rectangle? It can’t really a triangle with four sides, right? Anyway, any time one of them, or a pair of them, seem to be finding normalcy, here come one/two of the others to upset that. It is relentless and gives the show much of its momentum.
The backstory on Kreese was interesting. Not just in showing how he became a psychopath, but also by showing that he was once a caring person. The question for season four is does something reignite that caring side of his personality, or is he so far gone that he must be destroyed?
Some other bullet points:
- Eagle Fang Karate? Hell yes!! Johnny insisting a mongoose isn’t real about had me falling off the couch.
- Hawk is an absolute menace. And then he does the heel turn in the final episode. For all the twists and turns this show throws at you, that one still has me reeling a bit.
- I do not buy, for one second, Yas and Demetri as a couple. I can handle a lot of unrealistic shit in this show. But I will not stand for this.
- I noticed that Courtney Henggler always wears flats. I don’t normally notice these things but I thought it was weird she had them on with a business suit and began keeping track. I assume this is so she doesn’t appear taller than Ralph Maccio, right? Pussy.
- Speaking of the exclamation “Pussy!” I need a Johnny Lawrence soundboard.
- Dee Snider!!!
- Peyton List. I’m having a hard time with her. My girls watched all the Disney shows she was on, so I literally watched her grow up. And her body is very, very different than it was then. I understand puberty, I know how young people’s bodies can change dramatically. But I keep wondering if all those changes were natural. If you know what I mean. Which, you know, who cares? And, also, stop being a dirty old man. While I am thrilled she seems to have survived the Disney machine, it is distracting to see a child actor as an adult. Especially when they are, um, very curvy.
There are dozens more things I could write about. But, bottom line, season three of Cobra Kai was another triumph. Shooting for season four is expected to begin soon – Covid allowing of course – and may debut next January. I can’t wait to see how the writers handle LaRusso and Lawrence teaching together. As much as anything they’ve done so far, that likely has the most potential for disaster. But also potential for absolute magic.
If we do get a January 2022 release date, I know what I’ll be streaming next December to prepare.