From its humble beginnings on what was once known as YouTube Red (which now only exists as an ad you can’t skip fast enough called YouTube Premium), to a premium Netflix show, “Cobra Kai” is better than it ever should be. There is honestly no logical reason as to how or why a show no one asked for based on a film series that arguably has maybe one and half good entries is one of the best shows on television. And not just one or two seasons, either. We’re on season 4 of “Cobra Kai,” and it’s still able to maintain and further everything that turned this crazy idea into a bonafide hit. It is packed with heart, humor, self awareness, and deep character development that is more masterful than the show lets on. “Cobra Kai” may be all about striking first, striking hard, and showing no mercy, but the patience and complexity the show continues to demonstrate would make Mr. Miyagi extremely proud.
“Cobra Kai” season 4 once again ushers in the new year on a high note, and once again delivers another impeccable season.
Created, written, and often directed by Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg, “Cobra Kai,” the series follows the rivalry between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) as they try to train and prepare their students for the All Valley Karate Tournament. Those students struggle with competing ideologies and typical teenage angst, and continues their coming of age arcs as they try to navigate both the world of youth and the world of competing dojos. “Cobra Kai” has managed to carve out its own little niche of existence, balancing telling a new and expanding narrative while also recognizing the silliness and cheesiness of it all, including their predecessors. The creators, actors, and overall storytelling keep finding new and unique ways to rehash old stories while also telling new and refreshing ones.
The balance that “Cobra Kai” has found in its storytelling is something wholly unique and special. it is something a number of other film and television series have tried but haven’t quite been able to tap in to. Yes, I’ve heard the silly comparisons of “Matrix Resurrections,” with some believing that film is one and the same and shouldn’t be critiqued as harshly. The difference is “Cobra Kai” (aside from being better in every single way because “Resurrections” is a dumpster fire pretending to be existential philosophy) still has something new to say, and goes behind simply rehashing and re-explaining past events simply for the sake of doing it. There’s a time and place to be overtly self referential, but when that’s all you have and your conclusion is ending up exactly where we left off, you simply can’t say that they’re the same. “Cobra Kai” goes above and beyond to not only retell the old stories, but reinvent them by delivering a kaleidoscope of perspectives of the same events.
“Cobra Kai” succeeds because it has the freedom to combine old and new stories without the expectations of striking lightning twice. It doesn’t need to live up to a generation defining film. It simply needs to have just enough self awareness and source material elements to make a case for existing. Everything else can be unwritten and new, and the makers of “Cobra Kai” seem to understand this better than anyone. Of all the strikes it takes first, it strikes balance the best. It knows when to turn on the cheese, when to turn on the teenage angst, and when to turn on the raw, heartfelt emotion. And none of these things ever overshadow the other, even when you think that it could or should. It is self aware without being self abusive, which is something surprisingly unique.
There is honestly just too many examples of this to really drive this point home. And we’d be here all day with me examining each and every character that exhibits this balance. For the sake of time and concise critical analysis, let’s look at “Cobra Kai” season 4’s latest addition of “Karate Kid Part III” antagonist Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). For any fan of the franchise, this could’ve been a simple, unabashed attempt at fan service. They could’ve simply brought him back as the same person we remember him as; no change, no difference, just gray hair and that same, over the top villain that could only exist in 80s movies. That is bare minimum rebooting 101, and probably would’ve been fine for most of us. Instead, season 4 decides to actually give him a full character arc with depth and understanding. They even go as far as to explain his previous antics in the film in a way that makes sense. Where he is when we meet him years later, what he thinks of who he was (spoiler alert: a LOT of coke was done in the 80s), and who he becomes is so purposeful and calculated it’s hard to believe it exists in a show no one really needed in the first place.
Griffith’s Silver is clearly the new antagonist of the series, but “Cobra Kai” isn’t afraid to paint him with shades of gray. Even if you don’t agree with his antics and maniacal plotting, you are still presented with a very really person. Silver may be a maniac, but you are given deep insight into and how and why he’s like that. And the show never really seeks to pass any kind of judgment on it one way or another. They simply want you to recognize that even though the show is littered with implausibility, it is also packed to the brim with real, developed, believable people. No one is ever the same at the end of the story as they were when whenever the new story began, even if some of the beats are purposefully repeating itself. This is part of the charm and magic of “Cobra Kai.” It works because the creators and actors want it to. There is a genuine love for everything that’s being done, and even though someone like Silver exists to please fans of the film series, the show goes above and beyond to make his inclusion impactful on the story and every character in it.
“Cobra Kai” season 4 also leans in to a new theme that didn’t previously exist in the prior seasons and adds that layer of character complexity that makes the season deeper than you would expect. There is a running theme of creating monsters, with just about every recurring and new character attempting to correct their past mistakes by making the same ones. One could say that this is an allegory for all reboots and retreads, but that would be adding a discourse that is simply irrelevant to the overall story and success of “Cobra Kai.” The show simply isn’t interested in making bold, existential statements about what reboots mean to the overall film culture. It only uses those things to build on an existing story, and its expansion by leaning into new themes like creating monsters continues to set the show apart.
This theme is repeated throughout the season, with Kreese (Martin Kove) creating the old Terry Silver (Griffin), Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan) trying to help a new kid Kenny (Dallas Dupree) who is being bullied at school, and yes, even Daniel LaRusso and his own children, Sam (Mary Mouser) and Anthony (Griffin Santopietro). Everyone is changed, and all of them have arcs that are more than worth investing in even if we aren’t entirely sure where they’re going or why they’re being included. It adds more depth to the tension of “Cobra Kai,” and makes you constantly question who you’re rooting for. Hell, even Tory (Peyton List) who last season was basically a violent sociopath manages to gain some sympathy and depth beyond a female antagonist. As you learn more about her, you start to kind of feel for her and understand why she is the way she is. You even find yourself hoping for her success even when you aren’t even suppose to be behind her.
This character complexity and constant growth is yet another example of how deep into the mine “Cobra Kai” has gotten and how much value they’re able to pull out from the tunnel. Despite an ever expanding cast, everyone is given a reason to be included, and there really isn’t a character that doesn’t get some kind of due. “Cobra Kai” manages to do all of this without feeling bloated or too heavy handed. Season 4 does a terrific job of getting you to care about and invest in everyone. They all matter, and they all have meaning in this silly but heartfelt world. Karate is simply the catalyst to dig into themes about growing up, making choices, social disparities, broken homes, high school drama, father/son/mother/daughter relationships, and the pettiness and immaturity of adults. “Cobra Kai” simultaneously pokes fun at all of these themes while also giving them meaning in ways even drama shows wish they could do this well.
This is probably a dumb sidenote that only I recognized and care about, but Xolo Maridueña and Tanner Buchanan have really good cry faces. They aren’t the only ones in the series shouldering the more emotionally charged elements, but there is something to be said for actors who have the innate ability to make those moments feel organic and real. There are few moments that require both of these actors to demonstrate raw emotion, and their talent and believable cry faces elevate “Cobra Kai’s” emotional aspects to be far more impactful than they ever should be. Ya, I cried. Twice. And each time it was because of Maridueña or Buchanan.
“Cobra Kai” season 4 once again delivers everything you could ever want from a series like this. It is truly amazing that the show is this consistently good, and I can’t wait for another season. The show continues to make every inclusion, cliff hanger, and set up for the future exciting and meaningful, and leaves viewers wowed by another stellar season while also begging for more, again. I simply can’t sing this shows praises enough. It does all the things other reboots and revivals wish they could do, and it does better than any of them. It has all but created its own genre, one that is copied but hasn’t yet been duplicated. The closest anyone has come is “Game Changers,” but the loss of Emilio Estevez for season 2 has the potential to diminish those same returns significantly. The series just does right by everybody, and season 4 leaves our heroes and villains in expected places that I for one am excited to see where it all goes.
There is simply isn’t anything like “Cobra Kai,” and it remains one of the best shows streaming on Netflix. After a hellish end to 2021, nothing usher’s in the New Year like a badass new season of Miyagi-Do/Eagle Fang Karate. I laughed, I cried, I cheered. It has a little everything and does everything well. Whatever you loved you about previous seasons, know that it’s all here in the new season. It delivers yet again, and the end of the season leaves you knowing that they have every intention of doing it well as many times as they want.
Give us Mike Barnes in season 5, you cowards!
Catch seasons 1-4 on Netflix.