Cobra Kai started in 2018 as a Youtube Originals series. The series finally shifted to Netflix for its third season after finding tremendous success and becoming one of the most popular series in Youtube Originals’ lineup. Cobra Kai comes back to form this season after a below-average season two, but is still way off from the first season
Cobra Kai follows the antagonist of the iconic 1984 film, The Karate Kid, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), 34 years after his historic defeat at the hands of Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), as he seeks to redeem himself by reopening the infamous Cobra Kai karate dojo.
Seasons one and two followed parallels from The Karate Kid as several highschoolers got involved in LaRusso and Lawrence’s rivalry. Season two ended with Lawrence’s star student, Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña) ending up in a coma after his son, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) kicked him off the second floor of their school.
Season three picks up two weeks after the karate riot at the high school. Lawrence is down and depressed after Miguel’s mother, Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) barred him from ever seeing Miguel again. Meanwhile, John Kreese (Martin Kove) has taken over the Cobra Kai dojo leaving Lawrence without a job, students or future prospects. LaRusso’s car sales are down after the negative publicity due to the riot which got his daughter, Samantha (Mary Mouser), suspended from school and his protege, Keene, on the run from the police.
Season three of Cobra Kai parallels The Karate Kid Part II (1986) as LaRusso visits Okinawa. LaRusso and Lawrence must also work together to take down Kreese. Miguel faces a long road to recovery. Samantha suffers from post-traumatic stress after the riot. Keene must find his way and face the consequences for his actions.
William Zabka is brilliant as Johnny Lawrence. He’s majorly flawed but tries to do the right thing. His self destructive but ultimately good character is a treat to watch. Zabka steals every scene he is in and complements everybody else in the series very well. He is easily the best part of this show. Even though there are dozens of Johnny-is-a-Luddite jokes, almost all of them work. He is great in both the drama and comedy scenes and single-handedly holds this series together.
Martin Kove plays the formidable John Kreese. He is strong, intimidating and gives a great performance with the material he is given.
Ralph Macchio plays the self-righteous but not self-aware Daniel LaRusso. He is a great foil to Lawrence and scenes of Zabka and Macchio are absolutely amazing. But unfortunately, he is, otherwise, very average.
Similar to Macchio, Xolo Maridueña, who plays Miguel Diaz, has great chemistry with Zabka. His scenes with Zabka are some of the best in the series. But once again, he is awful when interacting with other teenagers.
Most other actors in the show playing the role of teenagers in the show, like Mary Mouser as Sam LaRusso, Peyton List as Tory, Tanner Buchanan as Robby Keene etc, are abysmal to the point it is painful to watch them act. Part of it due to the writing but mostly it’s because of their appalling acting.
The only exception to this is Jacob Bertrand who plays Eli, another student at the school who was bullied because of his cleft lip. He ultimately becomes confident after learning karate and eventually becomes a bully himself. Bertrand is not brilliant but he is miles ahead of the other actors in the series and therefore, stands out.
The performances by minor characters who say a line or two in the show, are also terrible and break the illusion of the series.
The action in Cobra Kai is excellent. The stunts and the fighting, while not brutal, are very well choreographed and are fun to watch. Especially the fight scene in the last episode of season three which is just one long take. This is one of the stronger points of the series.
The humour in the show, while not very clever, still works for the most part. Zabka steals the show in this aspect once again.
The backstory given to John Kreese is one of the better aspects of the show. Even the initial part of Kreese’s arc last season was excellent and grounded.
The reason Cobra Kai was so successful in the first place, and not just a mindless cash grab based on 80’s nostalgia, was because of its excellent writing, in season one. It had a unique perspective on a classic film. It was self-aware and wasn’t afraid to poke fun at itself.
Daniel’s wife, Amanda, especially, kept the series anchored to reality. But this season the writers went all out and started taking the series too seriously.
The story beats became way too repetitive and Cobra Kai became about karate gangs, alliances and rivalries. Instead of making fun of teenage movie tropes, as the first season did, season three went ahead and embraced the cliches, making the series almost unwatchable at times.
John Kreese is an overused villain. His interesting backstory doesn’t justify him acting like a sociopath this season. He is typecasted as a generic bad guy instead of the multifaceted character he could have been like Johnny Lawrence.
The story Cobra Kai is trying to tell doesn’t warrant three seasons, let alone the fourth one, which is already in production. As a result, the show is going after far fetched storylines and is losing the novelty that set it apart.
Cobra Kai is for three types of people; fans of the original Karate Kid series, people who enjoy teenage dramas and those who enjoyed the wit, self-awareness and unique perspective and depth this show offers on a classic film with not much depth to it.
Season three of Cobra Kai will satisfy the first two kinds of audiences but could alienate the third as its writing becomes ever so poorer.
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