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“Cobra Kai” was such a pleasant surprise as to invite skepticism whether this long-delayed “The Karate Kid” sequel could do it again. But Season 2 of the YouTube series is, if anything, better than the first — a teen soap, largely, which also packs a wryly nostalgic kick.
Part of that has to do with the arrival of original bad guy Martin Kove, who popped up in the first-season finale and slides back into the role of Kreese as if no time has passed at all. His attempt to weasel his way back into the life of Johnny (William Zabka) — who has been using teaching karate to try getting his life back together — gives this snake a gritty spine.
Inevitably, Johnny’s path will again cross that of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), who has achieved the kind of success that has eluded him. Yet even Daniel appears to be clinging too hard to past glory, dragging his daughter (Mary Mouser) and Johnny’s son (Tanner Buchanan) under his wing, with predictably chaotic results.
Zabka has turned Johnny into a wonderfully layered character — alternately a jerk, vulnerable and sympathetic, with a decent streak that seems mostly to irritate him.
In many respects, the focus on the kids makes “Cobra Kai” a solid teen soap opera. Yet the show also works on a more adult level, inasmuch as the whole conceit hinges on the older characters being somewhat trapped by the choices they made in high school, spiced with resentment against those who somehow broke free.
What really makes the show shine is how deftly it weaves in knowing asides and callbacks to the movies, occasionally dropping in clips, and garnishing scenes by using ’80s songs. At the same time, the teens have developed into solid characters without feeling like just a rehash of what transpired before.
With episodes running about 30 minutes each, the show pretty much flies by as a 10-episode binge, and gives YouTube — still feeling its way in the series game — its most credible calling card in the crowded streaming arena.
There’s been an abundance of reboots, most of them pretty tired, as networks seek the marketing edge that comes with peddling a familiar name. After four movies and a remake, however, “Cobra Kai” has somehow mastered that routine, in a way that’s as sure-footed as it is entertaining.
“Cobra Kai” Season 2 premieres April 24 on YouTube.