“The thing that works about the show is that you could look through anybody’s lens and see it through their eyes and they’re the hero in a way,” declares “Cobra Kai” star William Zabka. “’The Karate Kid’ was 35 years ago, so there’s a lot of life that has happened in between that,” he says.
“We’re not picking up a sequel right after that, we’re not copying anything. We’ve managed to create a show that is brand new and relevant to today with the backstory being something that everyone already has an emotional connection to.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Zabka above.
“Cobra Kai,” now in its third season, revisits old rivals Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (Zabka) from the original 1984 Oscar-nominated classic “The Karate Kid.” The show picks up over thirty years after that iconic cinematic moment from the original film in which underdog LaRusso defeated bully Lawrence at the 1984 All Valley Under-18 Karate Championships Tournament. This time, the show is told from the perspective of a scrappy Johnny, who re-opens the Cobra Kai karate dojo, rekindling his old rivalry with Daniel, who himself has become a successful prestige car salesman, husband and father.
The series’ first two seasons follow Johnny and Daniel as they set up their own dojos, as Lawrence establishes the show’s namesake Cobra Kai while LaRusso leads Miyagi-do, named after his former sensei Mr Miyagi (played by the late Pat Morita from the original film). The teenagers that join each dojo are then inevitably drawn into the decades-long feud between Johnny and Daniel as they compete for All Valley karate supremacy.
The third season kicks off with Johnny’s karate prodigy Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) paralyzed and in recovery after falling off a balcony during his devastating fight with rival Robby (Tanner Buchanan), Johnny’s estranged son. Robby has turned his back on LaRusso, joining forces with the villainous Kreese (Martin Kove, reprising his role from the original film), Lawrence’s old sensei, who returned last season to take over the Cobra Kai dojo. A three-way feud ensues throughout the season, with old grudges culminating in an immensely satisfying season finale. Fans now await the show’s return for Season 4, which has recently wrapped shooting and is likely to premiere on Netflix later this year.
Although the series flew somewhat under the radar when it ran on YouTube’s premium service for its first and second seasons in 2018 and 2019, when it moved to Netflix, the show’s first and second seasons become the most-watched series on the platform, while the third season further skyrocketed in popularity after it premiered in January 2021, cementing it as one of Netflix’s most popular original series. In addition to its impressive commercial success, “Cobra Kai” has also garnered raves from critics, with Season 3 scoring a “fresh” 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
While “Cobra Kai” is action-packed, nostalgic and often very funny, it also explores themes that resonate on a deeper level. It’s about friendship, redemption and also about the plight of not only the underdog but also the bully, and it does so with a degree of sincerity that is refreshing in a time when irony and satire tend to dominate pop culture. And a huge part of the show’s sincerity is thanks to Zabka’s earnest and unfeigned portrayal of Johnny, who he describes as the ultimate “work in progress.”
“The key to Johnny that was in ‘The Karate Kid’ that lives even now is this; the first line in the ‘Karate Kid’ movie that I ever said in any movie was on a motorcycle on top of the hill,” he recalls, looking back at his debut scene in the original film when one of his Cobra Kai gang says to him “you’re still the ace degenerate.” “Johnny says, ‘no, ex-degenerate. I have one year to make it work and that’s what I’m going to do, make it work.’ But it didn’t work, and that’s the key to him,” Zabka explains. “He’s still trying to make it work. Every time he is beat down he’s still trying to make it work.”
“Johnny Lawrence to me is a new character,” Zabka reveals. “He’s Johnny Lawrence now. He’s not Johnny Lawrence in high school. He’s Johnny Lawrence with a kid that he’s estranged from and a girl that didn’t work out. He’s not the kid on a motorcycle with his headband and his Cobra Kais, you know, the king of the world. This is a brand new character,” he says. “In many ways, he’s an artifact of the eighties with this arrested development from that period of his life,” the actor notes, adding that ultimately, the show for him is “about a guy who’s trying to work his old stuff out.”
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