Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka, left) teaches Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) and other Eagle Fang students. Photo courtesy of Netflix
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Cobra Kai went from an underdog to one of the biggest shows on Netflix. Critics and audiences may have been skeptical about the stars of The Karate Kid revisiting their characters for a YouTube show, but creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald proved they had a story to tell. Now their biggest competition is themselves, but Season 4 rises to the challenge.
Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) have made a tenuous peace. WIth their common goal of defeating Cobra Kai and John Kreese (Martin Kove), they have combined Daniel's Miyagi-Do students with Johnny's Eagle Fang pupils. Dealing with each other may prove more difficult than facing Cobra Kai at the All Valley Karate Tournament, even when Kreese calls in his Vietnam War buddy Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith).
Cobra Kai does not make you wait to see Silver. Season 3 already proved how skillfully the show could handle fan favorite cameos when Tamlyn Tomito and Yuji Okumoto reprised their Karate Kid Part II roles and Elisabeth Shue returned from the original film. The writers have a way of taking characters from '80s movies and evolving them in a way that makes sense in 2021, without losing what made them great in the movies.
Silver has a longer way to go. He comes from The Karate Kid Part III, the sequel even Macchio doesn't care for. Silver tricked Daniel into training to defend his All Valley title against a new opponent, but it was really a ruse to sabotage Daniel. True to form, Cobra Kai addressed Silver's outrageous past and what that might do to someone who isn't just a cartoonish sequel villain.
Silver is actually a good influence on Kreese at first, but all the Cobra Kai drama awakens some of the old Terry Silver too. And don't worry if you haven't seen The Karate Kid Part III. Young Silver was introduced in Season 3's Vietnam flashback. So Griffith's appearance is both a reward to the movie's fans and the payoff to the show's own storyline. Hopefully, they can convince Hilary Swank to let them give her Next Karate Kid character, Julie Pierce, the same treatment.
Seeing Daniel and Johnny work together is the culmination of three seasons. The best episodes so far have been when they had to reluctantly be civil to each other. In Season 4, they're like an old married couple on the verge of divorce.
The most amazing accomplishment of Cobra Kai was not resurrecting a dormant franchise. It was introducing a whole new generation of characters experiencing teenage woes including but not limited to bullying. After three seasons, the young characters have begun to become mentors themselves. They've trained in Karate enough to teach new characters, or to teach Johnny and Daniel a thing or two about getting along. Of course, the young characters are not perfect mentors either and sometimes let their ongoing rivalries cloud their judgment.
While evolving the show's original characters, Season 4 introduces another new one. Kenny (Dallas Dupree Young) is the new kid in school and the junior high cliques start bullying him. It's a heartbreaking reminder that this story never goes out of style, and the bullies of Season 4 show that mean kids will always find new ways to terrorize the vulnerable. Kenny turns to Robby (Tanner Buchanan) for help, giving Robby a chance to see what it's like to teach someone in need.
A particularly touching storyline evolves between Amanda LaRusso (Courtney Henggeler) and Tory (Peyton List). Tory has been so angry for so long, she needs someone to see through her bravado and show her that compassion does exist. What begins as Amanda protecting her daughter, Samantha (Mary Mouser), from Tory becomes a moving story about how challenging it can be to reach someone who believes she has to protect herself from everyone.
There are many more intriguing Cobra Kai Season 4 subplots that would constitute spoilers. There's a fight in pretty much each of the 10 episodes, as the cast and choreographers have had more training to pull off such feats. With Season 5 already wrapped production in Atlanta, Season 4 provides a satisfying conclusion while opening up compelling new story ideas.
Cobra Kai Season 4 premieres Friday on Netflix.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.