“Strike First. Strike Hard. No Mercy!” Cobra Kai, the hit series on Netflix, is a fun and engaging comedy-drama based on the 1980s martial arts movie (and sequels) of The Karate Kid franchise. For kids growing up in Gen-X, this was essential viewing in the childhoods of millions of people. Cobra Kai brings back many characters from those original films while updating viewers on their lives in the present day.
While some may have initially pegged this as solely a nostalgia-based show, instead it has further expanded the Karate Kid universe with new characters and storylines for a younger generation. With more time to tell their story than in a movie, each character is more fleshed out and enjoyable to watch than even in the original Karate Kid films.
Cobra Kai stars Ralph Macchio (as Daniel LaRusso) and William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence), whose lives have gone in opposite directions since their showdown in the final of the All-Valley Tournament in the first Karate Kid film over 30 years ago. Daniel (the former new kid in town) is now the owner of his own successful car dealership chain, while Johnny (the former rich kid), is now scraping to get by as a handyman and struggling with overcoming his past.
Daniel was always seen as the hero in the original films, especially after beating Johnny in the final of the All-Valley tournament. However, in Cobra Kai, Johnny is an anti-hero of sorts and the two have more similarities than they’d like to admit. Daniel and Johnny, while still in the midst of their long-standing rivalry, sometimes look like they are on the verge of making amends with one another.
However, to complicate that from happening, Johnny’s former sensei Kreese (played by Martin Kove) comes back into the fold to stir up trouble. On top of that, both Daniel and Johnny now have kids (as well as others they mentor) which often makes them pick sides in the battle against one another. This well-written story regularly keeps you anticipating each new episode and its ever-evolving plot twists. Initially streaming on YouTube for its first two seasons, Netflix has since picked up the show (for Seasons 3 and 4) and CobraKai has substantially grown its rabid audience since then. Even though Season 4 is just now being released, Season 5 has already been greenlit as well.
At the end of Season 3, despite all their resentment for one another over the years, Daniel and Johnny finally teamed up and have agreed to work together! Daniel (sensei of Miyagi-Do) and Johnny (sensei of Eagle Fang after he lost Cobra Kai back to Kreese) are bringing their dojos together in hopes of winning the annual All-Valley Tournament. In order to counter this, the trailer for Season 4 shows Kreese bringing in his old Army buddy (and Tang So Doo master) Terry Silver (played by Thomas Ian Griffith) to even the odds. Terry was the main bad guy in the 3rd Karate Kid film and is the next in a long line of original Karate Kid actors to appear in the series.
Now that everyone’s caught up, let’s break things down:
1. Cobra Kai is about so much more than karate. There are some very impressive fight scenes in the series and a dedicated stunt team to make the battles “for the soul of the Valley” look very real. However, what makes the show great are the characters and the stories.
2. It doesn’t matter too much if you’ve never seen the original movies. While you’ll certainly be able to pick up on numerous Easter eggs throughout the series if you know the full backstory, Cobra Kai stands on its own merits as well. There are also numerous flashback sequences whenever the original films are needed for reference on the show.
3. The young adult characters of Cobra Kai are often the main focus. While there’s an ensemble cast of young adult actors on CobraKai, here’s who you really need to know: actress Mary Mouser plays Daniel’s daughter Samantha LaRusso (who’s an impressive karate apprentice in her own right), Xolo Maridueña as Miguel Diaz (Johnny’s top student and former All-Valley tournament winner), Tanner Buchanon as Robby Keene (Johnny’s estranged son who Daniel took under his wing until Kreese became his sensei), Peyton List as Tory Nichols (Samantha’s main rival), and Jacob Bertrand as Hawk (the nerd turned bully who’s now looking to make amends).
4. There are a lot of lessons to learn from the show. To start, karate can teach a student focus, discipline, patience, respect, confidence, and honor. You see the characters embrace many of these qualities, while other times they only embrace the ones that they feel benefit them. However, when they don’t embrace them all, they often fail at their goals. Only when they use their skills in the right way do they best succeed. Redemption is also shown to be possible, but only through empathy and forgiveness.
5. The show focuses on many topics young adults deal with when growing up, such as bullying and standing up for yourself, first love and heartbreak, how our role models (or lack thereof) affect how we see the world, etc. There are also moments of self-realization, learning from our mistakes, female empowerment, and so much more. The show does all this while also not taking itself (or any of its characters) too seriously. In the chaos of each season, there is also a search for balance, peace, and strength among the show’s main protagonists.
Besides the original three films which starred Ralph Macchio (as Daniel) and his sensei, the beloved Mr. Miyagi (played by the late Pat Morita), there have been other Karate Kid releases that could still tie into future storylines. Five years after the 3rd Karate Kid film, The Next Karate Kid starred now Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce, Mr. Miyagi’s latest apprentice. Rumors of her eventually appearing in Cobra Kai seem to pop up every so often and could certainly happen one day. Villain Mike Barnes (played by Sean Kanan in Karate Kid: Part III) is also rumored to return now that his sensei Terry Silver’s involved in Season 4. Fans previously predicted Daniel and Johnny’s original love interest Ali would turn up, and fans got their wish when actress Elisabeth Shue reprised her role in Season 3. Daniel’s wife in Cobra Kai (Amanda LaRusso) is played by Courtney Henggeler.
YEM fans may also remember the 2010 film, The Karate Kid, which starred martial-arts and acting legend Jackie Chan along with Jaden Smith (who’s the son of actor and superstar Will Smith). This film was not a direct sequel but tied in many of the same storylines into their version of The Karate Kid. It’s unlikely anything to do with this film will become part of the Cobra Kai universe. However, don’t be surprised if there’s eventually a Cobra Kai spinoff series down the line on Netflix after the show wraps up. Depending on how the story ultimately plays out, there are many directions they could go with a spinoff. The creators of Cobra Kai have already discussed this possibility in interviews about the show.
Cobra Kai has been nominated for multiple Emmys and recently received 3 People’s Choice Awards nominations: Show of 2021, Best Drama Show of 2021, and Most Bingeworthy Show of 2021. While Cobra Kai is usually supposed to be taking place in California, nearly the entire show is actually filmed in Atlanta, Georgia. YEM fans may recognize Cobra Kai actress Peyton List from Disney Channel’s Jessie, Bunk’d, as well as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films. You may also recognize actor Tanner Buchanan from Netflix’s He’s All That which arrived on Netflix back in August.