To think that a spin-off of a classic action trilogy from the 80’s would be this consistent is unbelievable, but Cobra Kai keeps its wheels turning and the fans keep coming back for more ridiculous, consequence free, grudge filled karate. And there are no signs of slowing down. As long as show creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg find new ways to keep the 35-year rivalry between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) alive, Cobra Kai is alive. Every season builds upon what the previous one has done – the show is constantly one-upping itself in the same vein that Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play a game of horse for a Big Mac (In a 30 second commercial).
No character from the original trilogy is safe from exclusion in this revitalization. Season 3 saw the return and takeover of the Cobra Kai dojo by John Kreese (Martin Kove) and season 4 brings in Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) in a valiant and villainous return to haunt Daniel and Johnny’s lives and thus stealing the All-Valley championship from their grasp. To its core, Cobra Kai has largely been about LaRusso and Lawrence holding on to the grudge formed in The Karate Kid. Now middle aged and somehow still very spry, their love/hate relationship has spilled over into the next generation of karate, rage filled youth. It’s been that way since season 1 – finding a healthy mix between both groups.
Both LaRusso and Lawrence haven’t grown much in maturity over the years – both are very much the same, lacking the much-needed development to stop the eyes from rolling and scoffing every episode as if the two will learn their lesson finally. Both man-children are stubborn to a fault and narcissistic to the point that their anger toward each other is doing more damage than when the two decide to finally put their differences aside to take down Kreese. It’s a good effort and the two really tried to mix their styles of Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang. But in the end, it’s the kids that suffer as they have for 4 consecutive seasons.
Picking up where season 3 left off in an Avengers style team up of Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang, finally, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) can team up with on again off again girlfriend Sam (Mary Mouser) to put a stop to Robby (Tanner Buchanan) and Tory’s (Peyton List) reign of brainwashed terror. Former best friends Eli aka Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) and Demetri (Gianni DeCenzo) reunite as the Binary Brothers, and all is right in the world of a shrinking contained universe.
I really hope they don’t bring in the Jaden Smith character, fungus crossed.
What keeps us coming back to Cobra Kai is credited to many aspects. For one, the karate and action sequences are stepped up every season. This is the best the series has produced so far. It’s the choreography and camera angles that are the most effective in season 4 and it doesn’t hurt that the main cast has been learning how to fight for 4 seasons. Every new school character looks completely comfortable on the mat. Tanner and Mary are on another level – both bring an intensity the series hasn’t seen before wile Eli, Miguel and Tory all bring their A-game. The karate is ramped up, more brutal and unforgiving which firmly proves that anyone can learn how to either wax on wax off or strike first and show no mercy.
While the show has stayed faithful to its 80’s roots – zero empathy, character growth from the adults (who are supposed to know better), the series has found its moral compass in Amanda (Courtney Henggeler). Amanda is the only character attempting to put an end to the senseless violence that has still borne no consequences (even when Miguel is nearly paralyzed). Yes, Robby was put in juvenile detention – but did he learn his lesson? No. For all the punishment dished out over the seasons, the break-ins, the constant bullying in person and cyber, no one feels sympathetic to that fact of more damage is being done that will eventually corrupt the characters we can relate to. Grounding Anthony (Griffin Santopietro) for cyber bullying Kenny (Dallas Dupree Young) is not enough. The series is toeing a line with how dangerous some of the concepts they are exploring.
Is it all in good fun for our enjoyment sure, but how much bullying is too much? How much senseless violence is necessary? I guess since we’re all desensitized as a society, the more severe actions are taken with a grain of salt but It can’t be swept up under the rug and made to look like these actions don’t affect people. The season 4 finale while full of excitement and intensity does bring some realizations to the characters. Robby, out of the younger group is the clear favorite to come to terms with his misaimed aggression and anger while Tory realizes it’s not her against the world – there are people willing to help. Daniel and Johnny finally grow up (something I was intrigued to see happen this season after season 3) while Miguel goes soul searching and the Sam and Tory feud may be over at last. Season 5 is sure to bring the fireworks, heel and babyface turns and some unpredictable alliances.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, but make some tweaks to address the larger issues. Cobra Kai has found their groove – it’s comfortable and the creators are fine with having a cyclical nature to their characters, old and young with some breaking through the stereotypes put in place. But as long as the show dazzles with its high-octane karate action and dramatic looks before a referred fight begins, I hope the series keeps coming bigger and better each time the calendar hits January.
Created By: Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
Episodes Directed By: Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Marielle Woods, Joel Novoa & Tawnia McKiernan
Music By: Leo Birenberg & Zach Robinson
Cinematography: Cameron Duncan
Starring: William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Maridueña, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, Jacob Bertrand, Gianni DeCenzo, Peyton List, Vanessa Rubio, Thomas Ian Griffith & Martin Kove
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: December 31, 2021
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
My Score: 4 out of 5
Based On: The Karate Kid by Robert Mark Kamen