The appeal of Cobra Kai over the past few years is how it rode the 1980s retro coattails that exploded in the 2010s and was able to turn it into a more modern series blending comedy and drama. In the first three movies, we left most of the characters in their late teens with their futures ahead of them. Originally airing on YouTube to immediate success, it was picked up by Netflix and managed to be one of the streaming service’s biggest hits.
Three seasons have dropped in just under two years and the quickness is due in part to the fact that it’s getting harder and harder to make some of the cast appear they’re still in high school. Mary Mouser who plays Samantha “Sam” LaRusso is now 26, for God’s sake. She would be looking forward to the 10-year reunion if that’s still a thing. While I give the series props for casting high school age actors to play high school characters, it’s been over four years since lead character Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) met his first student, Miguel Diaz (Xolo Mariduena) and rekindled his rivalry with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). However, it’s only been a couple of years on the show. And Mariduena, who was only 17 when the show began is now 21 and you can sense he’s been aging every season.
The fifth series picks up where the fourth left off with Miguel traveling down to Mexico in search for his biological father with Johnny and his own son, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) reluctantly a passenger, following him. Johnny’s former sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) has been arrested for the alleged assault of a Cobra Kai student, Raymond “Stingray” Porter (Paul Walter Hauser). Stingray was actually assaulted by Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), a wealthy businessman who was Kreese’s friend for years and they served together in Vietnam where Silver was indebted to Kreese for saving his life.
However, old wounds and bitter rivalries can turn friends into enemies. Silver who had pretended to be Daniel’s mentor in The Karate Kid Part III actually did it as payback for how he felt Kreese was wronged. The fact that Kreese didn’t go to prison for the events in the first Karate Kid could only happen in the 1980s. The fourth season ended with Cobra Kai winning a tournament thanks to a win by bad girl Tory Nichols (Peyton List). And the fourth season had focused on Daniel and Johnny trying to put their past behind them to defeat Kreese and Silver. The season also ended with Chozen Toguchi (Yuji Okumoto) arriving to help Daniel. Chozen had been a rival of Daniel’s in the second Karate movie before growing up and realizing his faults and making peace with Daniel in the third season.
The fifth season opens with Daniel angry at Silver for trying to accomplish what he attempted in the third movie and open Cobra Kai dojos all across the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, this hostility creates problem with his wife, Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) who is growing tired of his behavior even when Silver shows up at a charity event. This gives Amanda a little needed back story as she has mainly been functioning as the obligatory wife when she takes Sam and their son, Anthony (Griffin Santopietro who was finally given his own story arc in the fourth season) to her native Ohio. Here we get a nice cameo by Daniel’s old friend, Jessica Andrews (Robyn Lively). We also see that Amanda has her own Johnny Lawrence-style rival from when she was growing up. Jessica drops a line about these women that is gold.
What I did like was how Johnny and Daniel seem to finally be working together as Johnny is growing up as his relationship with Miguel’s mother, Carmen (Vanessa Rubio) is getting more serious. Given that it’s been more than 35 years since the events of the first movie how long can he hold a grudge. Johnny’s still ignorant to some modern technology. I actually liked him excited that he was making a phone call from his car. There’s also a funny bit in which Johnny and Chozen get to know each other more by discussing all the things they’ve done to Daniel.
And even though Daniel appeared in the first season appeared to have moved on, here he is still picking at old wounds as Daniel and Chozen track down Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) who had been a huge rival of Daniel’s in the third movie. Silver had hired Barnes to follow and intimidate Daniel into competing in the All-Valley Tournament. Daniel discovers that Barnes, like Chozen, has moved on realizing how wrong Silver was and become a successfull furniture businessman.
As for Anthony, he’s still dealing with young Cobra Kai student Kenny Payne (Dallas Dupree Young) who is getting back at him for a prank Anthony and his friends pulled in the fourth season. And Kenny has dialed the payback up. This subplot brings up memories of the first Karate Kid as Daniel and Johnny were often at each other’s throats with pranks and bullying. As for Robby and Miguel, they both seem to be conflicted over their history and how it each affects their relationship with Johnny.
Miguel and Sam are struggling themselves with where they’re going to take their relationship. And Sam and Tory must realize if they want to stay enemies because Tory knows something that I’m not going to post here. I know it all seems like soap opera drama but it works.
I didn’t really care for the character of Kim Da-Eun (Alicia Hannah-Kim) a sensei Silver employs from South Korea. She seems to act and behave like she’s in a totally different series altogether. That being said the interior of the Cobra Kai dojo now looks like it’s out of one of those 1980s martial arts movie The Cannon Group or New World Pictures would put out. That look does give it a nice feel to a bygone era since most of the characters are living in the past.
I also liked for the first time, the series has the look and feel like it’s actually in the San Fernando Valley. The series has been filmed in the metro-Atlanta area to take advantage of Goergia’s film and TV incentives but previous series have the high trees and autumn colors that I don’t think people experience in southern California. I know TV and movies are about the suspension of disbelief but this type of sloppiness from previous episodes and other movies and shows is one of my pet peeves.
That’s not that I’m saying the entire season is bad. No, it’s far from bad. The part where Miguel goes to track down his father seems a little out of place but I feel it really shows how deep down, Johnny has developed a father-son bond with him. But I wish they would quit tiptoeing around Tory’s mother. What we know is Tory is having to take care of her but her health must be getting better if Tory can spend more time away from home. I’ve heard rumors online that people want Julie Pierce (Hillary Swank) to appear as Tory’s mother as her face hasn’t been shown. Julie was the main character in 1994’s The Next Karate Kid. They way they brought Barnes and Jessica back from the third movie but didn’t overuse them was well made.
Sony which holds the rights to the franchise has announced a new Karate Kid movie is scheduled for 2024 but it won’t have any connection to the series. This makes me feel that Sony and Netlix may be considering the sixth season to be the last. And the way the season ends, it hints that it’s all going toward one final big moment. Six seasons is not too bad for a series. But don’t worry, I’m sure we’re going to get a revival series in a decade or two after this one does end its run.
As the saying goes, Cobra Kai never dies.
What do you think? Please comment.