Cobra Kai never dies! But that doesn’t mean the show should keep on running forever… If the Karate Kid movies taught us anything (besides how to paint a fence), it’s that there’s only so many times you can hang a whole franchise around a martial arts championship before it starts getting samey. Cobra Kai’s electric first three seasons have done the Miyagi-verse proud – but one more battle royale ought to be just enough to make sure it goes out on a high.
Either a teen soap disguised as a VH1 nostalgia fest, or a grown-up drama about midlife crises with a load of violent kid comedy mixed in, Cobra Kai found a weird, brilliant little niche on YouTube Red back in 2018 before it made the move to Netflix the following year.
Working as a direct sequel to 1984’s The Karate Kid, the series found bad guy Johnny Lawrence (an incredible William Zabka, revisiting his very first role) as a washed-up handyman, and All-Valley champ Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio, also doing his best work) as the successful owner of a car showroom. The school bully turned out to be a loser, and the geeky kid grew up to have loads of money. Except it wasn’t as simple as that, and Cobra Kai smartly flipped the stereotypes around and made Johnny the one we cared about – reopening the Cobra Kai dojo to try and get his own life back on track while Daniel mostly just acted like a bit of a dick.
As the series grew, the relationship got more complicated. By the time season three ended in January, Cobra Kai was juggling multiple storylines about Sensei Kreese’s past in Vietnam, Sam LaRusso’s crush on Johnny’s best student Miguel (formally in a coma, now back to being a champ), and Johnny’s son Robby’s sudden flip to the dark side after being snubbed by Sam. Throw in the revolving arc of nerd-turned-bully-turned-nerd-again Hawk, the murderous rage of Miguel’s ex, Tory, Johnny’s romance with Miguel’s mum and Daniel’s back-and-forth to Japan to save his business, and we’re heading into season four with a whole lot of ground left to cover.
But even that’s not all. In the last episode, everything came to a head (again) with an insane single-shot three-way Christmas fight scene between almost everyone in the cast. This isn’t the first time this has happened, of course (it’s actually pretty much how season two ended…), but the aftermath sees Miyagi-do and Eagle Fang finally deciding to join forces against Kreese’s Cobras.
So Daniel and Johnny are friends again. The next season will inevitably get a lot of road out of putting both rivals on the same side (which is just fine if we get to watch them beat up a load of bikers to Mötley Crüe’s ‘Kickstart My Heart’ again), but how long is going to be before something bad happens that makes them fall out again? It’s the same formula we’ve seen a dozen times across the first three seasons, and the same template that’s been overused now for the Sam-Miguel-Robby-Tory love square.
How many more times can the high school stand another all-out, old-fashioned rumble? And how long before all the kids start realising that karate isn’t quite as cool now as it was in the 80s? Come to think of it, how long before all the kids start looking way too old for high school anyway (Mary Mouser, who plays Sam, will be 25 by the time the next season starts…)? And how long before Kreese looks too old to do anything, let alone keep fighting two karate champs half his age?
Add up all the Karate Kid movies (even the rubbish one with Hilary Swank) and you’d only have half the running time of Cobra Kai’s first season. Spending 30 episodes with these characters has paid off wonderfully so far, and Zabka and Macchio have made it one of the funniest, most watchable shows around (and one of the best examples of how to reboot a classic franchise without ruining it) – but it needs to make sure it lands its killer final punch before it starts stumbling.