Who would have thought that back in 2018, a YouTube red original series based on a now middle aged antagonist from the 80’s Karate Kid franchise would become such a pop culture phenomenon. Following the move to streaming giant Netflix, the hugely nostalgic spinoff has gone from strength-to-strength, building an impressive fan base in its wake. During the show’s debut back in August on the platform, it quickly became the most-watched series, with Netflix eagerly renewing the karate drama for a fourth season before it’s third even debut. There’s undoubtedly a lot of anticipation surrounding the upcoming instalment, so I’m so pleased to confirm that the series more than lives up to the hype.
Creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg remarkably established an exciting new chapter in the Daniel LaRusso & Johnny Lawrence saga throughout the first two seasons. Fans gained a fascinating understanding of both characters and how their feud shaped them into adulthood, with their opposing dojos Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do Karate battle for the championship proving the core conflict. Meanwhile their legacy and strive to be better for their students following Miguel’s hospitalisation is the main crux for season three. With Kreese poisoning Johnny’s former students at Cobra Kai, new rivalries have emerged from old friendships, and it’s up to Daniel and Johnny to put their past behind them and team up for the good of the community.
Season three signifies a lot of emotional soul searching for both of our heroes in the aftermath of the violent high school brawl between their conflicting dojos. Johnny confronts his previous mistakes and sheds his Cobra skin through a heartwarming attempt at self-improvement; devoting his time and effort to Miguel’s recovery whilst also establishing a kinder, more tolerant dojo. There’s a truly fantastic bond between Johnny and Miguel, thanks in part to the brilliant chemistry between William Zabka and Xolo Maridueña, and it’s here where the third series is afforded it’s biggest laughs. Johnny’s efforts to navigate technology and social media, thanks to some guidance from Miguel, are gold dust. One scene in particular is a real highlight, as the two head out on a hilarious Facebook photoshoot in an attempt to impress one of Jonny’s old flames.
Meanwhile, the writers further explore the Karate Kid mythology with Daniel heading back to Mr Miyagi’s hometown, Okinawa in Japan. In a particularly excellent standalone episode he bumps into a couple of old friends and foes along the way, who teach him a number of valuable lessons which will help him right a number of wrongs back in Los Angeles. There’s plenty of Karate Kid Easter Eggs featured in this series for diehard fans, but perhaps one of the biggest fan services yet is the return of another significant friendly face from their past. This cameo brilliantly ties together both of Johnny and Daniel’s arcs, helping both men gain a new understanding of each other, as they both finally realise that they’re not all that different after all.
Subsequently, tensions are further deepening between Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do Karate thanks to Kreese’s old-school brutality and bullying techniques. Hawk (Jacob Bertrand) and former pal Demitri (Gianni Decenzo) become the biggest casualties in Kreese’s plan, while Miguel and Robby’s rivalry also heightens thanks to Miguel’s growing relationships with Sam and Jonny. Tanner Buchanan plays the misguided Robbie with the perfect amount of tragedy, as he struggles to find a father figure following the failure of both Johnny and Daniel. The writers have a terrific knack for exploring and developing characters, affording them both depth and understanding. Martin Kove is absolutely commanding as Kreese, filling the antagonist void perfectly in this series, effectively using both Johnny and Daniel’s weaknesses against them in an emotional turn of events. However, much like they afforded for Johnny, the writers fittingly explore his painful backstory in a particularly impressive flashback. All of this leads up to an affecting cliffhanger, full of fan wish fulfillment and nostalgia, setting up a fourth season which promises to be thrilling.
With the move to the streaming giant, the production values for the series appears to have been significantly upped, as the exciting action set-pieces have increased. In one particularly fun fight sequence, Johnny and Daniel team up in an attempt to take down some dodgy car thieves and it’s just brilliant! There’s also an impressive attempt at a stylish Daredevil-esque one shot fight sequence in a significant brawl. The 80s soundtrack and synth score is a real nostalgic treat, along with the many Karate Kid throwbacks and easter eggs peppered throughout.
Filled with bags of heart and 80s nostalgia, along with a fist pumping cliffhanger, season three of Cobra Kai is everything I wanted and more. The show is clearly going from strength to strength, quickly becoming one of the most heartfelt and bingeable series on Netflix. With the show already renewed for a fourth season, I’ll be intrigued to see how they resolve the central conflict.