NEW YORK, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- William Zabka says he's happy fans found comfort and inspiration by watching his Karate Kid sequel series, Cobra Kai, during the coronavirus pandemic.
The half-hour, action-dramedy picks up more than 30 years after California high-school rivals Johnny Lawrence (Zabka) and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) competed at the All Valley Karate Tournament.
Now in their 50s, down-on-his-luck Johnny and wealthy hotshot Daniel are martial arts instructors with their own dojos where they mentor teens using vastly different teaching and fight techniques.
Cobra Kai quietly debuted on YouTube in 2018, but exploded in popularity when Netflix released its first two seasons this past August -- while many people were stuck at home because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Season 3 starts streaming Friday.
"The pandemic has kept everybody locked down, in a sense, inside, and to have the show enter their living rooms with these characters they've known all these years, decades, was a little bit of comfort food," Zabka said in a recent Zoom interview with reporters. "Cobra Kai has been definitely good popcorn for the world during this time."
Those who tuned in were surprised to discover the show is much more than a nostalgia kick. It also is a funny and insightful underdog story that explores complicated parental relationships, bullying and wealth disparity.
Zabka thinks those themes make Cobra Kai relevant for today's viewers.
"It's not just good and evil and black and white," he added, referring to how Johnny was long regarded as Daniel's tormentor, but is now being seen in a more sympathetic new light," Zabka said.
He added: "There are shades of gray, and we should look at the world through different people's points of view and try to come to some understanding and balance. On the backs of entertainment and some badass karate and some '80s music, it's a feel-good show that is bringing families together."
Zabka said that even before the pandemic, fans told him the series had impacted their lives, whether it encouraged them to give up drinking or take karate lessons.
"I'd get so many people telling me, 'I haven't talked to my brother or my father or my son and this show is inspiring me to reach out and it's brought us back together,'" Zabka said. "As an artist, to make an impact and have that kind of response is incredible."
Mary Mouser, who plays Daniel's pampered daughter Samantha, said she believes teens and young adults are attracted to the show, in part, because of the way it deals with power dynamics amid the haves and have-nots in high school.
"This up-and-coming generation, specifically, is woke and knows a lot more about the world than I think I did at that moment in my life, and that's exciting and it makes me want to challenge myself to learn and try harder," Mouser said in a separate Zoom chat with co-star Peyton List and reporters.
Mouser also said young fans are coming to her with "tough questions" that make her think deeply about how Samantha's wealth and her nemesis Tory's poverty put them on a collision course.
List plays Tory, Johnny's former karate student and an angry, jealous girl who incites a mass karate brawl at school that injures Miguel and Samantha at the end of Season 2.
"It's super-relevant right now. We see with social media the huge divide there is -- politically, economically, socially," List said. "Cobra Kai is oddly commenting on a lot of that."
"Cobra Kai does a good job of showing everyone has a story. No matter how bad you have it or how privileged you are, everyone is going through something, and I think it's good for all of us to be able to communicate through the show. Hopefully, it brings more of us together to have those conversations," she said.
Xolo Mariduena, who plays Johnny's star student and surrogate son, Miguel, and Jacob Bertrand, who plays Miguel's former friend, Hawk, are enjoying how the show plays with the notion that someone can be a hero or a bully depending on someone else's perspective.
"Both of those phrases are pretty subjective," Mariduena said in another virtual roundtable interview, noting he thinks that in real life, nowadays, bullying is more of an online than in-person scourge.
"In terms of bullies and heroes, I think our show really blurs the line between the two," Mariduena said.
"At some points, there are some pretty distinct bullies and pretty distinct heroes, but that is the joy of the show. Jacob gets to play the hero with Demetri and also the bully with Demetri. I have that moment with Robby."
"They do a really good job of letting you know everyone's motives," Bertrand chimed in about the show's writers, noting if the characters would just talk to each other and explain where they are coming from, "A lot of this probably wouldn't happen."
Vanessa Rubio plays Carmen, who is Miguel's hard-working mom, Johnny's neighbor and a grounding force amid all the conflict in the Cobra Kai.
"She has a lot of dignity and drive and ability to overcome obstacles and keep her life going at a good clip with good intentions," Rubio told UPI in a phone interview.
It was important for the actress to authentically portray a mother caught between supporting her son's pursuit of excellence in karate and her fear for his safety.
"We meet her in the beginning of Season 1, and she is pretty fiercely protective of him, but she realizes through these events that he is growing up and he's becoming a man. He needs male guidance and he needs to explore and make mistakes," Rubio said.
"So she is definitely loosening the reins on her ability to mother him as she used to, but doing it still with a lot of grace and intelligence."
Season 3 sees Carmen and Johnny growing closer as Miguel recovers from his injuries after the fight. The relationship has been an interesting journey because it means Rubio is part of a Johnny redemption story decades after he was painted as a villain.
"[His redemption] does seem well-earned. Back when we all watched The Karate Kid, it would be like, 'No way would we be on Johnny's side!'" Rubio laughed.
"Now, it's like we can see this with these real-life eyes," she added. "Everyone has their light and dark side. You just have to find the balance."
Cobra Kai already has been renewed for Season 4.