I was blown away by the show, so I had to write something to the world as my little gift / thank you to the universe. All of this should be spoiler free until the tiny spoiler discussion section at the end.
Overall, I really liked the show. I will mention constructive criticism later, but I don’t want that to overshadow that overall, they did a great job with the plot flow, acting, characters, dialogue, and nostalgia. They did a great job playing on nostalgia, just like Stranger Things.
Usually, films or shows fail by getting the dialogue or realism of the setting/plot wrong. I usually always pick up on this, but this time, I didn’t notice any major issues, which was impressive. There were some minor things with very few scenes where I didn’t think high school kids would act or behave in a way or be invited or rise in the social hierarchy so quickly or react in that way but I was able to let it slide.
More than anything, you really start seeing the good in many of the characters, even the “bad” ones. They really emphasis the theme of how the world isn’t black and white, which I like because it’s different from the old, overly simplistic idea that there’s a bully and a good guy. The world is definitely multi-dimensional — the bully can also have nerdy interests. the big guy isn’t always mean. the bad guy isn’t that bad.
So of course, I was a bundle of emotions throughout and moreso as it built towards the end. My heartstrings really pulled for a lot of the characters.
If anything, I think they made it too complicated with the plot updates and turns. It became a little bit too much of a soap opera, making it hard to keep up with. I ended up a little confused about who is right or wrong. They did a little to resolve things you were dying to be resolved, only to add more complexity right after. I had to take a moment to just step back and think about who exactly is right or wrong and who misinterpreted, only to conclude that many have a good heart except misunderstandings, situation, and circumstance complicated everything.
Small parts were predictable with cliches, but other parts twisted and turned in ways you don’t expect. Especially for a young kid who hasn’t seen as many cliche, predictable stories, I think the whole thing is probably fresh to them.
Demetri was a really annoying, obnoxiously socially unaware kid. They tried to make that part of the comic relief, but then he just got too annoying.
Anyhow, I’m glad they renewed for season 3. I’m looking forward to it.
Spoiler discussion section
I wanted to add some tiny remarks here that may contain spoilers. What really kept me thinking about the show and I didn’t really like was how complicated it got especially by the last episode of s2. I liked how they made it more multi-dimensional rather than black-and-white but that doesn’t mean the plot has to get super complicated. I had to step back and conclude who is bad here and who is good? Reese is the only person I see as truly bad. He lies, manipulates, doesn’t learn, and takes over. You get some empathy for him as he’s down on his luck, but then, the show clearly paints him into a villain later.
My heart breaks for many of them, but especially Johnny, who Zabka did an exceptional job playing. The show really makes me think he is a good guy with demons and some bad advice, some of which he’s learned to discard and some of which he kept. The troubling part is that his own students turned on him. I could care less about the Reese betrayal as much as all his students turning their backs to him after all he’s done just because they think his advice didn’t work out. Now, they’re going to become even more corrupt.
It seems the show is subtly hinting at Mr. LaRusso and Johnny fully making amends and joining forces, which I really hope so.
As far as the main kid leads, I think almost all of them have good hearts. The show doesn’t paint it clear as day as what the cause of them going astray is since it’s complex, but it seems some of the bad teachings of Cobra Kai have made some of them use bullying and tough guy asshole behavior as their only resort as a solution for many problems.
Robby really is a good guy with a troubled past who has changed for the better. He got carried away and made a stupid move in the last episode, but I don’t think that he or anyone else should beat himself up too much or label him as a horrible person. If anything, he’s hurting a lot especially with what Sam did to him. He did tell a white lie to Sam with the medal of honor, but he had somewhat decent intentions on why he did it.
Mr. La Russo appears to be that lovable, successful, pure, wise, honest teacher we quickly learn to love. Slowly, we realize he doesn’t have everything in balance as he so claims, which he ultimately has to apologize and make up for. And then, you start to see his intense rivalry consume him as a person and become toxic and unhelpful.
Ultimately, Mr. La Russo and Robby both end the show thinking they screwed up. I think they did some things right and some things wrong. But overall, they did good. Let’s hope they see that. I’m sure we won’t see the end of karate in s3.
Sam is a good girl at heart, but she’s lately she’s caused some of the most trouble, acting out, getting ridiculously drunk at a party, and cheating on her partner. I tend to let some of it slide because you can tell it’s some psychological thing that she’s playing out despite warm warnings from friends — perhaps, her dislike or jealousy of her ex’s girlfriend, Tory. Ultimately, I let her pass on most of that because Tory really did instigate a lot of the problems. The kiss here was a big mistake. I would’ve flipped out if something occurred from my partner, but at the same time, I realize it’s a common high school thing or thing for stuff to slip. And they both did immediately regret it after.
Tory is the instigator, in my opinion, often causing the fights or doing something that isn’t right to Sam, causing further drama and rivalry. When you learn about her, you realize that her past of fighting for the scraps may have caused part of it. Her dislike of Miguel’s ex and jealousy probably also causes further trouble. It’s an interesting move by the show makers not to paint her as a complete villain or to ever really punish her for her actions, not sure I like or dislike it yet. It is frustrating to see her get away with stuff repeatedly. The one time she was in the right was the final episode. Sam and Miguel did a stupid thing kissing. Though it was rather cliche and predictable for Sam to catch her doing it. Other than Reese, if I had to call anyone “bad” in the show, it’d be her, and then, Sam (although Sam is more of an unintentional, brash kind of bad).
Miguel, also a great guy at heart, is on the other side of the rivalry. He honestly plays a solid, reliable, good-hearted character throughout, almost guiding his sensei Johnny when Johnny isn’t sure which way is right or wrong when Reese comes in. He has his slight moments of getting corrupted, but not as much as Hawk. He stays pure more or less, until of course the end with the kiss. He shouldn’t have done that, that wasn’t right, and he realizes it immediately after. He makes the right move of showing mercy only for the world and an accident to cause either death, paralysis, or a minor injury (we’ll find out in the future). His mother ends the show by denouncing Johnny saying that Miguel avoided fights rather than sought them out before learning karate. We know that while that’s partially true, Miguel also developed some valuable skills and lessons through karate. If anything, it comes down to Johnny, the one guy he looks up to and learns from, and maybe Mr. LaRusso, to really figure out what they’re doing wrong in their teaching and correct to save the day. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Miguel, but it looks like the only solid course of action is for him to have a severe injury that takes him out for a while so that people can learn their lesson. (Honestly, the whole extended fight involving dozens of people that seems to have lasted 20 minutes+ just wouldn’t happen in real life. It wouldn’t have lasted so long and it wouldn’t have taken that long for teachers or other students to intervene. You can overwhelm them with numbers. But I’ll let it slide)