Cobra Kai

Cobra Kai on Netflix is widely considered to be one of the most watched shows on the streaming platform, garnering a whopping 120.06 million hours of audiences watching shortly after Season 4 debuted. Why would a television series sequel to a beloved ‘80s movie franchise be such a colossal hit in 2022?

The show checks into the characters from the original The Karate Kid trilogy more than 30 years later. Instead of the show revolving around the franchise’s protagonist, Daniel LaRusso (portrayed by Ralph Macchio), the story focuses on his rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). Thirty-four years after LaRusso defeats him in the 1984 All-Valley Karate Tournament, Johnny is down on his luck. He remains traumatized from his loss and getting assaulted by his sensei (teacher) John Kreese (Martin Kove). He tries to earn a living as a part-time handyman. But after losing his job, Johnny finds himself using karate to defend his young neighbor, Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), from bullies. The experience eventually inspires Johnny to reopen the Cobra Kai karate dojo. Daniel, now a co-owner of a successful car dealership chain and living the life of wealth with his family, learns about Cobra Kai reopening. The LaRusso-Lawrence rivalry continues. And their decades-old rivalry spur rivalries among their students.

The show’s beating heart is the new generation of karate students: social outcasts and bullies who are neither good nor bad. Each and every character in Cobra Kai has their moments of greatness, which are always worth rooting for. But they’re also flawed, constantly falling prey to miscommunications, misunderstandings, societal and peer pressure, fierce loyalties and head-spinning betrayals. Nothing stays the same for long as the show is rife with shifting alliances and unresolved vendettas.

Meanwhile, Cobra Kai revisits characters from the original Karate Kid and flesh them out with far deeper character profiles than Karate Kid creator/writer Robert Mark Kamen originally envisioned in the ‘80s. Viewers are able to take a deeper dive into the motives and aspirations of characters like Daniel, Johnny, John Kreese and Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith). Characters that may have appeared superficial at first glance or were used to move the plot along are humanized and given purpose. There are plenty of welcomed cameo appearances, and those cameos leave long-lasting impressions on the main cast of characters as they move forward in the series.

But Cobra Kai doesn’t shy away from the original material. In fact, Cobra Kai is heavily inspired by it. Though the series is set in present day, Cobra Kai is shot with an ‘80s flare with an ‘80s soundtrack running through it. The story is easy to follow. Scenes rarely feel packed. There is a little campiness, but it never feels misplaced or overwhelming. In fact, the camp is rather endearing. Johnny is constantly struggling with being a fish out of water, preferring ‘80s hard rock music over anything else, hates “losers” and “nerds,” thinks social media hashtags are “hashbrowns,” and struggles to contain his toxic masculinity. And after living a wealthy lifestyle for years, Daniel has pivoted to a haughty sense of self-worth. He became so slavishly devoted to his teacher Mr. Miyagi (portrayed by the late, great Pat Morita) and his teachings that he fails to realize the merits of other forms of martial arts – making his rivalries more rigid. The audience is left to constantly wonder if Daniel and Johnny can finally move past their differences and unite against a common enemy.

Cobra Kai is constantly adding new characters and subplots into the mix even as it seamlessly incorporates major connections from all three Karate Kid films. There are certainly flashbacks, references, fun Easter eggs, and well-placed training montages, but nothing feels rehashed. In fact, showrunners Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are exceptionally skilled at subverting expectations and accentuating highs and lows. Each and every character, including Cobra Kai students Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz (Jacob Bertrand) and Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), have their moments in the spotlight. Cobra Kai is always leaving viewers wanting more. We’re always cheering to see these characters step out of the shadows and go head-to-head in well-choreographed fight scenes that are infinitely replayable. The action is relentless and we don’t want it to stop.

Cobra Kai excels in maintaining a perfect balance of heat and heart. The show has multi-generational appeal. Even if you’re never watched a single Karate Kid movie, you will feel like you have at the end of every season. Or maybe you’ll find the motivation to power up your parents’ VHS player that’s collecting dust in the garage, slip in a tape of Karate Kid, and take some time to unravel the LaRusso-Lawrence rivalry. There are many opportunities to enjoy Cobra Kai, an addictive and action-packed continuation of a beloved franchise that will live on for generations to come.

All four seasons of Cobra Kai are currently streaming on Netflix.