'Cobra Kai' Season 2 Review: 'Karate Kid' Spinoff Waxes Its Way Onto A Great Second Season [SXSW]

Viewers who were hoping to see Daniel-San crane kicking through Miyagi-do in the first season of Cobra Kai may have been disappointed. The YouTube original series from Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald wisely saved their most crowd-pleasing moments for the beginning of Season Two, after viewers were already in the bag. Season One of the Karate Kid sequel, set 34 years after the original film, focused instead on Daniel's rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) as he climbs out of a decades-long run of bad luck and worse decisions and re-opens the infamous Cobra Kai dojo. On the other side of the San Fernando Valley, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) is a happy husband and father and owner of a very successful car sales empire. But the season ends with Daniel's determination to open a dojo of his own to combat Cobra Kai's dominance – and just in time for the return of Johnny's bad-news sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove).

It's a clever move. After having earned accolades on the strength of its original story in the first season, Cobra Kai finally makes with the crane kicks in the opening episodes of Season Two, picking that low-hanging fruit and giving fans what they've been clamoring for since the beginning. The first two episodes of the sophomore season are such a good time, tossing around entertaining melodrama and heartwarming Miyagi nods in equal measure.

With the All Valley Karate Tournament behind them, the stakes are still high for Johnny and Daniel. Johnny's doing his best not to fall under the spell of his former sensei, but Kreese has a gaslighting hold on his former pupil, and he seems to be subtly, methodically edging his way back into a place of power in his former dojo. Meanwhile, Daniel's got exactly two students at the newly revived Miyagi-do – his own daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser) and Johnny's estranged son Robby (Tanner Buchanan) – and he's feeling the weight of bringing back Mr. Miyagi's purer version of karate to the Valley in the wake of Cobra Kai's win (all while still trying to run a successful car business, mind you).

Of course what we're all waiting for, now that we've gotten the waxing on and off stuff out of the way, is for Daniel and Johnny to finally team up – maybe to eventually take out the insidious Kreese, who is radiating malicious intent that poor Johnny can't yet see. It all feels so perfectly '80s action movie, down to the training montages, both of the traditional (Samantha and Robby learning to fight in tandem) and non-traditional (Daniel and his wife, Courtney Henggeler as Amanda, teaming up to sell ten cars in one day) varieties.

Cobra Kai achieves a remarkable tone, because this is, on the surface, a pretty silly concept for a show (based on a pretty silly concept for a movie), and the series never shies away from laughing at itself, but it also never feels like full-blown winking snark, either. The show continues to flash back to crucial moments from the film series, but these allusions never feel panhandling or arbitrary – they always fit in thematically, emotionally, and tonally to whatever's happening onscreen at the moment. And Macchio and Zabka are still taking their characters to fascinating places, more sophisticated echoes of the good guy vs. bad guy thing they solidified back in 1984. The series also maintains an intriguing balance between adult stories and kid stories, with Robby, Samantha, and Johnny's star pupil Miguel (Parenthood's Xolo Maridueña) figuring out their own karate paths.Cobra Kai did all of this so well in its first season, but the first two episodes of Season 2 have a new energy and fun to them. The prospect of a Cobra Kai / Miyagi-do showdown is thrilling, but it's more moving to see Daniel find his Miyagi roots and teach the right way to embrace karate, and it's more engaging to see Johnny misplace his trust in his sinister sensei just as he did all those years ago.

All ten episodes of Season Two will arrive on YouTube on April 24, 2019, and if the first two episodes are any indication, you'll want to save the date.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10