"Don't worry, you fell like a champ"
Cobra Kai has kicked its way back onto our screens for its third season, showing that it, like it's name sake, never dies, following its acquisition by Netflix - and I'm thrilled to say the least. As someone who started this series never having seen any of the Karate Kid movies (shocking, I know), I was amazed at how enticing it was from the first episode, and how it brilliantly gives new life to classic characters. Season three brings with it the same level of development, action and triumph that made the series so great, yet where it lands most of its blows, some land a little off the mark, and others miss altogether.
Season three see's returning sensei's Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), as well as their students dealing with the aftermath of the school brawl of last season's finale. While they are left licking their wounds, wannabe army general John Kreese (Martin Kove) continues to build up his army of Cobra Kai's, who are quick to cause terror in the Valley.
The introduction of Kreese as the new sensei of Cobra Kai adds an extra perspective to the shows composition this season, and genuinely provides more intrigue than I anticipated. Through the season, we are given snippets of Kreese's time in Vietnam as a young man, and in the process are witnessing the events that made him the tyrant he is today. It makes you feel bad for young Kreese, and how his life as a young man appears riddled with tragedy and suffering, but as soon as the flashback sequence is over you just can't wait for someone to punch his lights out. I love how the series hasn't simply shoehorned Kreese into the series to fill the role of the hated antagonist, but devoted enough time to his character to really make him more than his smug grin and stone cold exterior. It's a demonstration of the shows commitment to what it set out to achieve in the first place: showing that there's two sides to the story, and for Kreese, it's a story I want to see to the end.
However, Kreese's story in season three is but a small part of the shows better half. That half is of course, the one that makes the show the Karate Kid follow-up no-one expected, following the adult life of former All-Valley champ Daniel LaRusso and rival Johnny Lawrence. When Cobra Kai chooses to focus on its classic characters it excels in every way possible, making viewers question who's right and who's wrong by adding so many new dimensions to characters in a story that on the surface was cut and dry. In the new season, both Daniel and Johnny are given new arcs born out of last seasons finale, and see's both try to take responsibility in different ways. Johnny is left riddled with guilt over the school fight, which has left surrogate son, Miguel Diaz (Xolo Mariduena), in a coma. When Miguel is faced with the fear of being paralysed, Johnny steps up to get him back on his feet, even if he still can't shed his overly "badass" philosophy in the process. Johnny Lawrence is still the same character from before: headstrong, a little out of touch, but most importantly a man with a good heart, a trait increasingly emphasised this season. Johnny remains a figurehead for the series as a character that's gone from high school bully, to alcoholic bum, to a driven sensei looking to do the right thing.
Daniel on the other hand is faced with trials in both his personal and professional life, ultimately leading him back to Okinawa, Japan. Its here he hopes to find direction to face these trails, and thankfully, he doesn't have to find it alone. Without spoiling too much, Daniel comes face to face with familiar characters from his Karate Kid adventures, who's presence is bound to put a smile on the face of fans of the shows and movies alike. The importance of these characters is never inflated, nor undervalued to the point where they're a simple cameo, but rather they become an organic part of Daniel's arc without feeling forced or overstaying their welcome. It is in the continuation of Johnny and Daniels stories that the show truly shines as an exemplary successor to the Karate Kid movies, adding new dynamics and dimensions to old characters that perhaps deserved more than they got back in the 80's.
The other half of the show is where I often find fault. Where with Johnny and Daniel the show is a sequel to its source material, the parts of the show involving their teenage kids results in a cheesy hit or miss. While at its base this aspect of the show is a teen drama, it still produces some great characters, with arcs that keep them interesting and engaging. Miguel continues to be the standout among the young cast, almost becoming the spiritual successor to Daniel himself. He must deal with the consequences of last season more than any other character, and the development of his bond with Johnny makes for some of the funniest and most memorable moments of the entire season. Yet his arc in the form of his recovery feels rushed and borderline unrealistic, despite how uplifting it may be. The same can be said about Daniel's daughter, Sam's (Mary Mouser), arc, where an obstacle appears in her path, affecting her through the entire season, but is suddenly overcome at the last minute. It all feels a little cheap, and can take away from how great these characters have been in prior seasons.
Many of the other young cast don't feel as developed either, even though the show makes an effort to flesh them out as characters. Tori is still a down-on-her-luck tough girl driven by jealousy, Robby continues to embrace his daddy issues, and Demetri is still the same nerdy kid used for comic relief. The stereotypes remain, but that being said the rivalry between the students of both dojo's is still a lot of fun, with students finding ways to inflict damage on one another in creative ways, and even straight up brutal ways too. Its teen drama that is incredibly over the top, cheesy, and abundant in corny dialogue, but its a blast all the same.
As a whole, the show continues to prove its worth, continuing to be a stand-out series that proves time and time again to be as abundant in depth as it is in entertainment value. Cobra Kai is a cringe-fest that hits hard at the worst of times, but its arsenal of delightful comedic moments, fully realized characters, and some killer karate-filled action is enough to soften the blow.