Cobra Kai successfully does the underdog-success thing in more ways than one. Not only does it continue building upon the actual underdog story that the first The Karate Kid movie started back in 1984, but the series began as an unlikely success due to the whole reboot factor. You know how that usually goes (not good). One can’t dodge the avalanches of attempts to reinvigorate long-dead franchises. Reboots, remakes, reunions, revivals, or however they’re classified: we could do without most of them. These usually end up being misguided stabs at harnessing nostalgia. Yet Cobra Kai brought the warring dojos back and conquered all odds to capture a multi-generational audience. The series successfully ignites sentimental feelings for beloved returning characters while investing in new players and appealing to the young-adult crowd. And yes, it’s almost infuriating how well the show pulls off this feat.
Let me be clear here: I am not actually furious at Cobra Kai for being so good. Well, maybe a little bit. It’s not fair to stage such well-choreographed mall fights and school hallway throwdowns in the midst of story arcs that make me genuinely care about these characters. It’s almost heartless for this show to be so grump-lovable, to the point where I gobbled up the entire third season in a time period that makes me feel like a glutton. Now I’ll have to wait god knows how long for the greenlit fourth round. Meanwhile, all of those other re-vival-boot-unions are out there, putting up half-assed efforts to make lighting strike twice while clumsily roundhousing childhoods, and that is inexcusable.
[John Kreese voice] No mercy.
By now, I’ve given away how Cobra Kai is still a champion after crushing the first two YouTube Premium seasons and moving over to Netflix, where a larger audience could catch up while awaiting the third round. With that acknowledged, I must also say that Netflix passed out an enormous list of plot points that cannot be mentioned. Even if that wasn’t the case, it would be really uncool for me to spoil the hell out of this season for you, so I’m going to stay as vague as possible here. I can still dance around things to express how wonderful these young fighters are, even when they’re behaving very badly. The flaring nostrils of Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) and the pouty abandon of Tory (Peyton List) get fleshed out more this year, and they are so much fun to watch.
Obviously, the show must pick up after that peril-filled cliffhanger. The karate surrogates of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), respectively, threw down in a knock-down, drag-out battle that left Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) gravely injured in the hospital and Robby (Tanner Buchanan) in hot water with authorities. This seemed impossible to sort out in a satisfying manner, but Macchio promised us that “the best is yet to come in this series! And I believe in that.” Did I believe him? I mean, c’mon. What else was Ralph Macchio gonna say, right?
I was reluctant to believe him because those first two seasons were a tough self-act to follow. Could the show really keep the same momentum going? Could the awakening of Johnny continue to charm viewers after he and Daniel-san had so righteously f*cked up with their charges? Well, the show still works, and Cobra Kai creators Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg again proved that they’re beholden to the spirit of the The Karate Kid franchise. They’re resurfacing old tensions and settling scores in an honorable way, one that would make Mr. Miyagi (RIP Pat Morita) proud. It’s a triumph.
Many cool things happen this season, including the following:
— Both Johnny and Daniel must look within to help repair the damage they caused. In Daniel-san’s case, he undertakes a spiritual quest while returning to Okinawa, the original home of the Miyagi-Do. There, he meets up with a few familiar faces from The Karate Kid Part II, including Chozen (Yuji Okumoto reprises his antagonistic role), who is still steamed about losing his honor to the “honk!” all those years ago. Daniel also meets up with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), who helps him recapture the Miyagi spirit in a touching way. Yet are those two the only new comebacks? Oh boy. You’re gonna like what’s coming.
— The younger generation of dojo members remain both kickass while gaining added dimension. Miguel and Robby both have enormous hurdles to conquer after their tragic showdown, and these issues are treated with appropriate emotional heft but enough lightness to keep this show’s tone consistent. Samantha LaRusso (Mary Mouser) grows far beyond her borderline-bratty earlier days, Demetri (Gianni Decenzo) continues to be the most lovable geek of the bunch, and these “kids” maneuver remarkably well for being buried in the collateral damage of their senseis’ lingering beefs. The younger generation doesn’t quite carry the torch yet, but they are moving in that direction, and I feel confident about their abilities. Their relationships, their motivations, their fears, and their successes all feel very realistic.
— John Kreese (Martin Kove) is handled with a careful threading of the needle this year. In short, he transforms into a somewhat more complex character with the exploration of his backstory. There are some touches of softness up in that bad boy, but don’t get me wrong. This is no antihero game. The franchise knows better than that, and Kreese remains the most imposing villain of the franchise. This season simply makes him a more interesting, textured, and less cartoony, villain.
– A Twisted Sister concert turns out to be a game-changing pusher of the plot. I never thought I’d type those words, but here we are.
Cobra Kai Season 3 is a crowd-pleaser, pure and simple. It’s a shot of adrenaline that’s sorely needed right now, and it’s wild that this show can still bring the heart, hurt, healing, and honor while revisiting two men whose life paths diverged following one fateful crane kick. Both are looking for redemption in different ways, and although I feel that I’m still being teased without the answer to one lingering question, the new batch of episodes is a satisfying one that sets up even more conflict for season(s) to come. Cobra Kai fills itself with the best kind of drama, and I’m so looking forward to watching these senseis and students continue to hold court in the future.
Netflix’s ‘Cobra Kai’ returns for Season 3 on January 1.