How Cobra Kai Perfected The Nostalgia TV Show Format

The success of Cobra Kai proves that the series perfected the nostalgia element of a TV reboot, and other series would be wise to follow its example. The Karate Kid movies have become classics since the first was released in 1984, which made it a prime candidate for a great sequel. However, projects like this must be approached with caution, since one wrong move can greatly damage a franchise (like The Karate Kid Part III). A flop could retrospectively generate a poor outlook on the beloved original film, but Cobra Kai did the opposite.

Cobra Kai centered on Johnny Lawrence and placed Daniel in a supporting role. This allowed for an entirely new perspective on not just the character, but also the plot of Karate Kid as a whole. In a sense, Johnny became the new Mr. Miyagi, but his unique style ensured that Cobra Kai didn’t just become a rip-off of the films. To make it all even better, the series took influence from 1980s cinema and pop culture to ensure the flavor of the classic story was still present. Each season did this to varying degrees of success, but overall, Cobra Kai has had an effective run — especially in the nostalgia department.

Cobra Kai Has Retrospectively Improved Karate Kid

Fans of The Karate Kid were wary of a spin-off series, since there were plenty of ways it could have gone terribly wrong. The original movie had a unique spirit that was difficult to replicate (some of the attempted sequels prove this), and the recent years of nostalgia reboots had taught everyone not to get too excited about returning to old stories. However, the premise of the Cobra Kai plot was unique in that it didn’t just pick up with the main character decades after the film concluded. Instead, it jumped in with the old « villain » and told his side of the story while simultaneously continuing the tale.

Learning more about Johnny Lawrence, especially from an adult’s perspective, allowed Cobra Kai to round out the story of Karate Kid, which ultimately improved it. The series didn’t simply add another level to a teetering foundation (as other spinoffs do). It instead added to the original story’s foundation and built out from there. As a result, the stories told in the Karate Kid movies are even better than they were before. Audiences can go back and binge the classic and see characters like Johnny, Daniel, and even Mr. Miyagi in a new light.

This is true for more than just the first Karate Kid movie. The sequels, which have long been considered inferior, were improved with the return of Terry Silver and other sequel villains. By adding to the foundation of John Kreese and Silver’s relationship (and now rivalry), the forgettable plot of The Karate Kid Part III became a whole lot more interesting. For this reason, audiences are eager to see if Kobra Kai season 6 will bring back The Next Karate Kid protagonist Julie Pierce. Her story wasn’t much liked when the film came out in 1994, but Cobra Kai has already proven that it can change that.

Cobra Kai Offered Nostalgia (Without Sacrificing New Ideas)

Cobra Kai may have improved the overall outlook on the Karate Kid movies, but it did so in a way that allowed it to stand on its own as well. This required a delicate balance of the nostalgia of the classic films and an exciting new premise that audiences would love — which is something that Cobra Kai nailed in its first season. The genius premise repeated the same basic formula of the first The Karate Kid movie that audiences are familiar with, but with a significant twist.

Just as Mr. Miyagi found Daniel LaRusso struggling to defend himself and find his strength, Cobra Kai saw Johnny Lawrence take a kid under his wing and teach him to fight. Of course, he couldn’t see that Miguel Diaz had stark similarities to his old nemesis, and Johnny developed a close relationship with the boy that paralleled the old sensei’s dynamic with Daniel. Still, these relationships may have looked similar, but Johnny’s « strike first » methods differed significantly. This established independence between the two storylines.

By filling Mr. Miyagi’s role with the bad boy of The Karate Kid, Cobra Kai put a fresh spin on the tried and true idea. From Johnny’s perspective, audiences began to see Daniel LaRusso as something like a villain. Still, it did this in a way that didn’t wholly alter Johnny’s character. He was still a jerk with a tendency to bully those weaker than him, but understanding where this came from — and that he genuinely wanted to do better — made all the difference. It was just enough of the old mixed with the new, which is something other reboots and revivals should take notes on.

Other Nostalgic Revivals Must Follow Cobra Kai’s Example

Over the past decade, reboots and revivals seem to have become the dominating force in television and movies, and it looks as if this will only continue. Some have gotten it right, like Cobra Kai, but others have failed to combine the flavor of the source material with something new that makes it worth returning to. Shows like Fuller House and Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life have fallen under the latter category to varying degrees, since they didn’t fully embrace new exciting ideas — they depended too strongly on nostalgia to carry them through.

On the other hand, revivals like How I Met Your Father and That ’90s Show have followed in Cobra Kai’s footsteps by keeping their old, winning formula but filling it with new, fresh ideas. This means that there will still be a fun story to continue with, even once the nostalgia factor wears off (just as it did in Cobra Kai after the first couple of seasons). Cobra Kai will conclude after six seasons, which has been just enough time to tell Johnny’s story, improve the Karate Kid movies, and leave audiences satisfied — and future revivals would be wise to do something similar.