Objectively speaking, nothing about “Cobra Kai” should work. On paper, it’s a long shot premise capitalizing on a small part of an 80s movie that a majority of the cast is too young to even know what it is. Furthermore, no one asked for it.
Even as a huge fan of “The Karate Kid,” there was never a part of me that watched and it thought, you know what I really want to see? What happens to Johnny 30 something years later. But against all odds, “Cobra Kai” not only endures, but it shines. It cements itself as one of the best shows on television, getting almost everything right and striking (see what I did there) the perfect balance between nostalgia and present day narrative. “Cobra Kai” season 3 is the best way to start the new year.
Picking up almost immediately after the events of season 2, season 3 sees our rivals deal with the arrival of John Kreese. Kreese has taken over Cobra Kai from Johnny (William Zabka), and Daniel LaRusso’s (Ralph Macchio) business is failing after the school fight that left Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) in a coma and possibly paralyzed. Kreese’s cunning and ruthlessness wreaks havoc in everyone’s lives, and they all must find new ways to deal with him, even if that means forming shaky alliances with would be enemies.
It’s hard to even summarize “Cobra Kai” season 3 without spoilers; there’s a LOT going on here, and the show does a brilliant job in never making anything feel like it doesn’t belong. THIS is how you comprise an overall narrative with meaningful subplots, giving importance to both major and minor characters without ever detracting from the overall story. Just from a TV critic perspective, this achievement of storytelling is worth highlighting on its own. “Cobra Kai” honestly shouldn’t be this good and the story shouldn’t be told this well, but there is almost no wasted characters or arcs in the series, something many other shows (here’s looking at you “Warrior Nun” and “Cursed“) have tried to do and failed. For a show that shouldn’t exist in the first place, the fact that it’s operating on such a high level of narrative composition is all the more impressive.
“Cobra Kai” is also elevated by its cast, both past and present, young and old. The addition of John Kreese (Martin Kove) is welcomed, bringing a solid villain to the series with which all other characters are forced to deal with one way or another. Kreese is also given a back story that never changes how we are supposed to view him, something too many shows get wrong and often. Sure, “Cobra Kai” season 3 informs us that Kreese is a human being with life changing events that dictate who and why he is the way he is, but we are never expected or asked to root for him. He is unequivocally the villain of the all valley, which again is a compliment to the overall narrative and balance of the show. I know I’m gushing here, but people need to take notes. “Cobra Kai” season 3 is executing on a level of narrative construction that even big blockbuster films only WISH they could achieve.
In addition to a hard and fast villain, LaRusso’s trip to Okinawa is justified, earned, and emotional. The reintroductions of Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) and Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) are purposeful and welcomed. Despite only existing as plot devices and convenience, “Cobra Kai” goes out of its way to make their inclusion feel effective and necessary. I won’t lie to you, it is here during this arc that I absolutely lost it. No, no one died, but the show hits some emotional beats in their return to familiar territory that just wrecked my heart and produced the waterworks. This is spoiler free, so I won’t go into detail, but if you’re a fan of the franchise, I recommend to grab some tissues when LaRusso heads to Japan.
The rest of the cast is strong, even if some of them are underutilized. Robby (Tanner Buchanan) is a bit sidelined this season despite being an integral part of the overall narrative. Regardless, it delivers strong performances all around, with everyone (both main and supporting cast) pulling their weight and making their case to be engaging and interesting. They all seem to know that this show is cheesy by nature, but never let that detract from making themselves complex and realized individuals. However convenient or cheesy the show gets (which is does), it manages to extrapolate meaning and emotion under every seemingly silly surface. “Cobra Kai” knows what it is, knows what it’s doing, and knows what its viewers want. The cast knows this too, thus delivering on their performances no matter how big or small their roll is.
I honestly could go on and on about how great “Cobra Kai” season 3 is. It’s not perfect, but it’s about as close as you get given its subject matter and premise. Perhaps its biggest fault is that it requires a season 4, leaving our characters in a place that absolutely require more episodes. And to that end, it should be said that for as good as the show is, it certainly has an expiration date. Yes, this show has a ton to offer and a lot of great stories to tell, but there is only so much we can pull from the well before it starts to run dry. Don’t misunderstand, that is NOT what is happening here in season 3. The show leaves you wanting more in all of the best ways a show can. But there will come a time when it all needs to end, and my hope, despite loving everything about the show, is that this happens sooner than later. I want it to stay great and not jump the shark. So far, it hasn’t. And it doesn’t look like it will any time soon.
However, there is the potential to do so, and “Cobra Kai” season 3 is so good I would rather it end on a high note than be tarnished by extended longevity.
The point to all of this is that season 3 is the best way to start 2021. It hits all the right notes and continues to deliver with every episode. Season 3 is engaging, heartfelt, and fun. I still don’t understand why or how this show is as good as it is, but if this is how we’re going to start the year after the nightmare that was 2020, I’m all here for it. Case in point, “Cobra Kai” is great and you should absolutely watch it. Don’t wait. There is no waiting in this dojo!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
“Cobra Kai” seasons 1-3 are available to stream, only on Netflix.