Daniel-san isn’t the bad guy by a long shot, but he’s a lot less lovable than has-been Johnny, who makes us laugh out loud with his throwback attitude. Unlike Daniel, who’s the very model of a modern major-domo, Johnny didn’t get the memo that it’s no longer acceptable to call women “babes” or hang massive American flags on his wall. He’s today’s underdog—a working-class junkyard mutt who gets kicked around by his (supposed) intellectual and ethical betters, yet still has enough spirit to haul himself out of a tangle of greasy sheets every morning and snarl in the face of safe spaces. When someone phones asking if he accepts gender-nonconforming students, a confused Johnny wonders if it’s a prank call.
Is it only nostalgia and weariness with a world that suddenly feels overrun with hall monitors that’s won Cobra Kai legions of fans? No doubt that’s a significant factor. But the show isn’t politically incorrect just for political incorrectness’s sake. Cobra Kai weighs what it means to be a man in a world that no longer seems to have any use for them. It looks at how fathers, both biological and adopted, shape their sons, and how growing up without them is leading to extremes of aggression and helplessness.
It would be hard to find another ’80s update that’s even half as clever.
Take the scene where an athlete at a martial arts competition feels he has to give a virtue-signaling speech condemning toxic masculinity before he can compete. A viewer can’t miss the irony that the woke adults in these young men’s lives demand a conformity and submission far more pitiless than anything a high-school clique could come up with.
The most frustrating thing about Cobra Kai is that for a series so well tailored to watch with tweens and teens, it includes a hefty amount of language and crude humor. Thankfully, VidAngel has the show on its service too, so families have the option to enjoy the fun and thoughtful themes while filtering out what’s truly toxic.