Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
Cobra Kai, the best reboot in the business, returns for its fifth season this Friday on Netflix.
When the karate grownups first came on the scene, many scoffed how it was a blatant grab by Ralph Macchio and William Zabka to recapture the magic of the 80's film series. Those Karate Kid films ran their course, but what a novelty it would be 30 years later to see Daniel-san and Johnny Lawrence all grown up.
Four seasons later, Cobra Kai was deservedly nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series at the Emmys. Who's laughing now?
Cobra Kai set the bar for a successful nostalgic reboot. Pulling this off is an intricate process, but it can be done. Many more have failed than succeeded. After watching season five, I'm pleased to say the series continues to be smart, funny and the plot keeps moving forward despite feeling like you know where it's going.
The Daniel/Johnny rivalry will always be the heart of the series, but the creators have done a nice job transitioning them into begrudging rivals. That crane kick would be easy to keep going back to, but Cobra Kai has fleshed out new characters that complement the old favorites. For every John Kreese and Terry Silver, there's a Miguel Diaz and Robby Keene.
Focusing on Daniel and Johnny's families was a no-brainer from the start, but the friends of their kids don't come off as forced or cliched. They, like most of the other cast, are three-dimensional characters. The kids get a lot of screen time, but focus never wavers too far from the original archrivals.
There are too many callbacks in Cobra Kai to list in one column, and each character returns with flaws of their own. After the initial Facebook "I wonder what this person in high school looks like now" thrill wears off, there's plenty more to their stories. It's explained why the bad guy senseis became who they are, but the good guys at Miyagi Do and White Fang are far from flawless.
The best part of Cobra Kai is that it's fun to watch. The story is based on a fish out of water finding his way with the guidance of a witty bonsai tree maker to win the All Valley karate tournament in his new hometown. Cobra Kai successfully channels that spirit into this reboot with its sense of humor fully intact.
As much as I love the entire cast, Ralph Macchio and William Zabka do an admirable job carrying the show. The clear-cut good guy/bad guy in the original film is washed away as Johnny tries to improve his life while Daniel takes his for granted. Both constantly require wakeup calls and eventually end up squaring off for one reason or another before working together.
This new season picks up right where the last one left off. John Kreese is in jail. Terry Silver is expanding Cobra Kai. Miguel is in Mexico. And Daniel is trying to right things with some help from Okinawa. I won't spoil a thing. Just smile and enjoy the karate.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
The Good Fight (Paramount+)
Thursday, September 8th
This fantastic spinoff of The Good Wife enters its sixth and final season as dark and witty as ever. Andre Braugher and John Slattery join the cast (of course they do), and if you've missed Eli Gold from the previous series, Alan Cumming is scheduled to guest, as is Carrie Preston as the always entertaining Elsbeth Tascioni. The drama will continue to pull no punches as it bows out as CBS's most successful streaming spinoff. Watch trailer
American Gigolo (Showtime)
Sunday, September 11th 9:00 PM ET
I never saw the movie that made Richard Gere a star and had Blondie playing on radios everywhere. This adaptation of the 1980 film tells the story of Julian Kaye (the great Jon Bernthal) rebuilding his life after serving 15 years in prison for a crime he was framed for. Rosie O'Donnell is the truth-seeking cop who mistakenly put him away. There's a little too much soap opera in the constant reminders of how dark this story is, but Bernthal expertly showcases his versatility.
Wedding Season (Hulu)
Thursday, September 8th
There's a wedding, the husband and his family get killed, and then the wife goes on the run with her secret lover who suspects she's the one who did it in this British 8-parter. Watch trailer
THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT! (Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
Tell Me Lies (Hulu) – A couple meets on campus and embarks on an intoxicating relationship over the next 8 years in this book adaptation. Wednesday.
Last Light (Peacock) - Jack is back! Matthew Fox tries to bring his family together as the world falls apart due to an oil shortage in this new thriller. Thursday.
Gutsy (Apple TV+) - Hillary and Chelsea Clinton bring their book to the screen interviewing trailblazing women young and old. Friday.
The Serpent Queen (Starz) - The rise of Catherine de Medici from orphan to Queen of France in the 16th century. Sunday at 8:00 PM ET.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: The Twilight Zone (Paramount+) - After last week's pick, how could I not recommend the original 1959 Rod Serling classic. Some of the best short stories ever told on TV happened in this other dimension. Some episodes feel dated, but others, like “To Serve Man,” “Time Enough At Last,” “The Invaders,” “Eye of the Beholder” and “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” still pack quite a punch. And there's never been a better on-screen narrator than Rod.
Black Mirror (Netflix)
The Leftovers (HBO Max)
Deadwood (HBO Max)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
Downton Abbey (Peacock)
Banshee (HBO Max)
Police Squad! (Prime Video)
Party Down (Starz)
The Great (Hulu)
Magic City (Peacock)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster (or two). Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.