Cobra Kai (Season Three) (Netflix) | Under the Radar

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Cobra Kai (Season Three) (Netflix) | Under the Radar

L to R: Ralph Macchio as Daniel Larusso and William Zabka as Johnny Lawrence

Cobra Kai (Season Three)

Netflix

Jan 01, 2021

Photography by Curtis Bonds Baker/Netflix Web Exclusive
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There is something very clear-cut and satisfactory about an 鈥80s teen drama. The popular and unpopular divide is defined, generally delineated by each character鈥檚 cash flow. There is a good side and a bad side, where the former is always in the right and the latter is always, unequivocally, in the wrong. This was certainly the case with the original The Karate Kid trilogy, which started in 1984 and ended in 1989.

Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) was the poor, undersized underdog with a zen sensei in the revered and beloved Mr. 鈥渨ax on, wax off鈥 Miyagi (the late Pat Morita). Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) was the wealthy, uber-blond troublemaker with the ruthless sensei, John Kreese (played by Martin Kove).

Over 30 years later, The Karate Kid spin-off, Cobra Kai, turns all of the above on its head. Originally a YouTube Red production which premiered in 2018, Netflix snatched up the already-shot, first three seasons. In June 2020, seasons one and two began airing simultaneously on Netflix. The series has occupied a spot on the streaming giant鈥檚 top 10 since then. Ending on a hectic cliffhanger with a 鈥渒arate riot,鈥 Cobra Kai fans will get some resolution with Season Three鈥檚 10 episodes.

Cleverly written and well-cast with all the original actors, plus some excellent new characters, Cobra Kai flips the script鈥攑un intended. Everything about the original The Karate Kid is reversed. The grizzled Johnny鈥攚hose blond is now more dishwater than platinum鈥攊s a perpetually down-on-his-luck, jack-of-no-trades who lives in a rundown apartment, drinks too many Coors Banquets, and has no awareness of the 21st century. He lives as if it still is the 鈥80s with shocking but entirely unaware political incorrectness, case in point, 鈥渉ash brown me too.鈥 Johnny鈥檚 straightforward attitude and his general 鈥渄on鈥檛 care鈥 cluelessness about all modern things brings a side-splitting amount of humor to Cobra Kai. 鈥淚鈥檓 not checking in. I鈥檓 no quitter,鈥 he says when he stops by a rehab center. There is a lot to appreciate about the unlikely villain-turned-hero no-nonsense attitude鈥攅ven if sometimes that shows itself with him smacking teenagers around.

In contrast, Daniel is now an affluent auto magnate with multiple dealerships and a trophy wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler), whose brains and sass match her looks, not to mention her firm handle on comedic timing and delivery. Daniel lives in an elaborate hacienda-style compound with his family, including his karate-trained daughter, Sam (Mary Mouser), and his minimal screen time son, Anthony. He鈥檚 primarily retired from karate, other than using it as a sales schtick to shift cars. The bonsai-trimming Daniel has been replaced by a clich茅d smarmy car salesman.

In a quick recap, Johnny鈥檚 opens his own Cobra Kai dojo after his neighbor kid, Miguel (the effortlessly natural Xolo Maridue帽a) gets mercilessly bullied. A collection of nerds and misfits join the dojo, which turns them all into mini-Johnnys at his worst. As horrifying aggressive as they are, there is an honesty to their brutality, the result of years of being stepped on and ignored. In response, Daniel starts Miyagi-do, which feels more like a spa retreat than a space for martial arts. His main student, besides his daughter, is Johnny鈥檚 borderline estranged son, Robbie (Tanner Buchanan). Kreese returns, steals Cobra Kai away from Johnny, turning his students feral. The kids from the two dojos karate the krap out of each other at school and Miguel ends up in a coma.

Season Three continues with a similar ethos to the first two seasons. Any plotline, no matter how predictable it seems on the surface, has multiple layers. And no matter how stereotypical a character, there is much more than meets the eye. Back stories that didn鈥檛 exist at the time of The Karate Kid are revealed. These go a long way in explaining why the characters are how they are. Johnny鈥檚 abusive step-father (the stellar Edward Asner) who used his wealth as a weapon. Kreese鈥檚 scarring experiences during the Vietnam War鈥攕hot beautifully and effectively鈥攔eveal the roots of his cold-bloodedness. Plus, what did Mr. Miyagi leave behind in Japan?

Daniel returns to Japan, specifically, Okinawa. The traditional village has given over to Western retail and restaurant chains: Red Lobster, Gap, Forever 21, 鈥渨e used to have a Subway, but now we have a Jersey Mike鈥檚!鈥 He reunites with Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto). Seeing these classic characters is a treat鈥攅specially when Chozen teaches Daniel a sick secret move to disable your opponent, which comes in handy later. These two aren鈥檛 the only old friends that show up in Season Three. Don鈥檛 forget that Johnny discovered this thing called Facebook鈥攂efore his laptop 鈥渂roke鈥 when its battery ran out, 鈥測ou said this was wireless!鈥濃攚here he found another friend from high school.

Cobra Kai is cross-generational in its appeal, both as a comedy and as a drama, plus the non-stop, one-shot karate doesn鈥檛 hurt. Note to viewers: do NOT try and recover from a paralyzing fall the way Johnny pushes Miguel鈥攏ot only is it hugely dangerous, but it is the only highly unrealistic aspect of Cobra Kai. At half-hour each, Cobra Kai is an easy binge that will only make you want more. Netflix is aware of this and has already confirmed Season Four is in the works. (www.netflix.com/cobrakai)

Author rating: 8/10

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