Over the last four years, Cobra Kai has become one of Netflix’s biggest surprise hits. It’s an idea in a long line of half-ass reboots of content, once popular in the eighties. With a clever re-evaluation of protagonist and antagonist, the brand new show walks to the edge of self-aware ridiculousness; all the while, refraining from actively making fun of itself.
What shines through is the genuine affection that creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg have for the original franchise. This new Cobra Kai offering encompasses a compelling blend of heart and humour; which has made the original, in particular, a cultural touchstone.
For the uninitiated, Cobra Kai picks up over 30 years after the events of 1984’s Karate Kid. Johnny Lawrence is a washed-up drunk, working part-time as a handyman. It’s a job he despises, his head stuck in the past. After he witnesses some kids bullying another and intervenes using his karate skills, his passion for the sport reignites. He subsequently decides to re-establish the Cobra Kai dojo. Of course, Danny LaRusso discovers his intentions and begins to train his students using what he learned from Mr. Miyagi. The rivalry picks up where it left off – with a new generation of students carrying on their sensei’s respective legacies.
Over Three Seasons
Over three seasons, Lawrence and LaRusso constantly clash. Their students butt heads in fights both in and out of the tournament space. Lawrence’s student Miguel is the champion of their first tournament, with LaRusso’s protege Robbie succumbing to a narrow defeat. The cast grows as LaRusso takes on more recruits. This is when the popularity of Cobra Kai explodes after their victory at the All Valley.
However, once the founder of Cobra Kai, Kreese, comes back into the picture, he and Johnny are at odds; with Johnny unwilling to go as far as Kreese to achieve victory. Johnny splinters and creates his own dojo – Eagle Fang. Together with Danny, they team up to rid the Valley of Kreese once and for all at the end of the third season.
Season 4 – Unlikely Alliances, Confused Students
The fourth season explores this unlikely alliance, as both senseis adjust to being allies after their long-time enmity. They aren’t the only ones teaming up though, as Kreese realises he needs a partner too. He calls upon the sadistic Terry Silver (the primary antagonist from the third film) to come to his aid. These four men employ their unique training styles on their students. Living vicariously through them, however, begins to take its toll on the teenagers this season.
Miguel, in particular, is confused, as Johnny begins to date his mother as well as being his sensei. He experiences a lot of doubt over Johnny’s role in his life as a father figure – and makes Miguel reflect on his birth father and their relationship (or lack thereof).
Danny’s daughter Samantha also experiences some doubt in this season, as the defence-focused, balanced karate taught at Miyagi-Do is at odds with the attitude she feels she needs to combat the ongoing feud with Tory. She forms a bond with Johnny as he teaches her his version of the strike first philosophy, one that she embraces.
Forging Their Own Path
Ultimately, the fourth season of Cobra Kai ponders its own story and focuses on the teenage characters and what is best for them. While it has been fun to see the clash between Johnny and Danny over the show’s run, them teaming up to fight Kreese’s brutality feels like a logical step. Watching the two of them figure out a workable friendship is one of the more entertaining threads in this season. It ends with each of them appreciating that there may indeed be something to the other’s approach, both to karate and life in general. Ultimately they achieve what on the surface – particularly at the show’s outset – seemed impossible: a balance.
It is this balance that enables Sam to embrace both sides of her education. She is encouraged not to be a student of either Eagle Fang or Miyagi-Do, but to forge her own path using what she’s learned from both disciplines. This forms a microcosm of what the season itself is about – seeing the world through a former enemy’s eyes to deepen your perspective. This is something Miyagi would’ve almost certainly approved of, as while Daniel was an excellent student in a lot of ways, he didn’t entirely embrace this particular lesson in his own life.
Delivers on All Fronts
Ultimately, the fourth season of Cobra Kai was worth the wait. The exploration of the reluctant alliance between Johnny and Danny, Silver’s return, and a deepening of the emotional storytelling regarding the teenage characters are its most substantial assets.
And that is without mentioning the always stunning fight choreography. One fight in particular between Robbie and Eli at the end of the season stands out as one of the best the show has produced, so those who come for the brawls will not be disappointed either, even if the season as a whole is a bit slower action-wise than some of its predecessors.
With an intriguing end and a fascinating tease for the next season, Cobra Kai is not quite prestige television, but for a property based on what is essentially “Rocky for kids,” it comes pretty damn close. Full of humour, heart and pathos, it’s definitely worth a binge.
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