Creators: John Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald
Directors: John Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Josh Heald, Lin Oeding, Steven K. Tsuchida, Jennifer Celotta,
Cast: Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Xolo Maridueña, Mary Mouser, Tanner Buchanan, Martin Kove, Courtney Henggeler
Streaming on: Netflix
The first two seasons of Cobra Kai had their fair share of insanity. The show was indulgent and amusingly madcap, taking elements from The Karate Kid to another realm of crazy. Season 3, though, is flat-out bonkers — if the initial seasons were violent and aggressive, this one is straight-up apocalyptic. Unhinged content such as this can be enjoyable but also comes with its own curse — there's only so much gratuitousness one can tolerate. The third season, while not exactly falling prey to this, does tiptoe around it.
Continuing from where it left off, Johnny Lawrence and the LaRussos are forced to address the public clamour against karate after the school breaks into a self-described "riot." Miguel is in a coma, partially paralysed; Robby is on the run; Samantha is confronting the trauma caused by the fight; and Kreese is training his own clique of Cobra Kai goons. There has never been a better time for the YA-Sopranos genre. One can snicker at this season's schlocky turn — it's unreasonably stagy, over-the-top, and borders on a teenage mob drama. But Cobra Kai was never the show to watch if you were expecting 'gourmet cinema', a label used by a friend describing classically intellectual films. Instead, the series takes pride in its set structure of binge-able content.
It also delivers some rather overt Karate Kid franchise callbacks on top of an already dense story. Chozen and Kumiko from Part II return. So does Ali from the first film. While there's nothing wrong with pandering to an audience from back in the 80s, the fanservice does end up getting tedious and ho-hum — it's blatant to the point of attacking your senses. The show could've perhaps avoided this had it not dedicated entire episodes to these characters. The first two seasons ensured that viewers could marvel at Cobra Kai without having seen the original films. But as the fanservice gradually begins towering over the central plot in this season, you cannot help but scoff at its unimaginative and unnecessary tangents.
The previous season was relatively self-conscious. It realised that it could make its fight sequences, like the school-wide rampage, more brutal and ruthless. It was frivolous, yet thrilling, and that worked. Its cheesy television antics — the cliffhangers, slo-mos, plot armour, derivative humour, cracking pace, traditional scores — all delivered. Instead of turning television into a jukebox machine, it was one of the few shows to emerge as a success story despite these overused conventions.
The third season takes things a little further. The karate and hand-slinging are more frequent, it thrives on cliffhangers, and the stunts accompanied by background scores are groovier than before. This is fun and wild content. It's formulaic but addictive, melodramatic but authentic, and inane but clever. It's acutely aware that these elements will grab our attention. However, it's also not unfair to say that the writers go a tad too far. The teenagers vandalise public spots, steal money and beat each other to a pulp after breaking into their homes. I take no joy in being pedantic but there are some moments when you absolutely cannot help thinking: Why didn't anyone just call the cops?
While these logical leaps and bounds, including the glaringly obvious stunt doubles, do cause minor irritation, you get over it fairly soon. The show's oozing craziness starts feeling normal. And despite the clear absence of well-written character arcs this season, this latest addition to the Karate Kid canon continues to remain immensely entertaining.
Cobra Kai is currently streaming on Netflix.