TV review: 'Cobra Kai' keeps kicking with poignant new stories, characters

From left to right, William Zabka, Ralph Macchio and Yuji Okumoto attend a Karate summit. Photo courtesy of Netflix
1 of 5 | From left to right, William Zabka, Ralph Macchio and Yuji Okumoto attend a Karate summit. Photo courtesy of Netflix

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- No cliffhanger has ever been as intense as Cobra Kai Season 2 waiting to find out if Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) was OK, but Season 4 left a lot of interesting threads to pursue.

Season 5, premiering Friday, fulfills all of them but may have introduced more story than 10 half-hour episodes can contain.


Season 4 devotes the first two episodes to Miguel's trip to Mexico to find his father. Back in California, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) maintain their battle against Terry Silver's (Thomas Ian Griffith) Cobra Kai dojos.

The show conveys how dangerous Mexico could be for a teenager traveling alone, but not by vilifying Mexicans. It's a White Australian con artist who threatens Miguel.

Cobra Kai plays with viewers', and Miguel's, expectations of his father, and Maridueña gives a powerful performance just listening and observing through most of the Mexico subplot. When he's finally free to react emotionally, it's cathartic and not the last time Maridueña delivers this season.


Johnny (William Zabka) and Robby (Tanner Buchanan) go looking for Miguel. It is touching to see Robby and Johnny have some time to bond, which is complicated by Johnny's love for Miguel.

When they get into trouble, it's the first time we see Robby and Johnny fight alongside each other, though the camerawork is shakier than preferred. We know the actors can handle long takes of choreography and subsequent fight scenes allow them to.

Johnny gets to be a father as much as being a sensei, trying to handle Robby and Miguel's rivalry. When Johnny meets Chozen, it's fun to see two former antagonists of different Karate Kid movies connect with each other.

It's like when Ali (Elisabeth Shue) met Daniel's wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) in Season 3 and bonded over being the former and present love interest.

Chozen refers to Daniel as "Danielsan," an appropriate way to bring back Mr. Miyagi's iconic word. The show also has some fun with Chozen's Karate Kid Part II persona.

Cobra Kai Season 5 also shows what happens when adults realize they've gotten carried away. Daniel's obsession with stopping Silver gets dark, and his loved ones get tired of it, rightfully.

By Season 4, some viewers may say, "Why don't you just stop Karate and be done with Cobra Kai?" Those fans will be pleased to see Season 5 address that perspective.


But the story also shows that quitting isn't the answer, either. You have to pick your battles, and not everything is a battle.

If a fight leads to pain that doesn't mean don't fight. Not fighting can cause pain, too.

Life is about recovering from pain and making the decisions with which you can live. That might not be as catchy as "wax on, wax off," but it's just as relevant.

It is a testament to the characters Cobra Kai has established that viewers will follow them along the show's wilder storylines.

In fact, Cobra Kai now has the high class problem of having so many meaningful characters that there's a need for more episodes, or longer episodes, to serve them all.

In Season 4, the writers created the character of Kenny (Dallas Dupree Young), whom Anthony LaRusso (Griffin Santopietro) bullied. Kenny's story is so moving that fans who relate to him might feel they're not getting enough time with him in Season 5.

Kenny's story also informs Robby, who's trying to save Kenny from going down the Cobra Kai path. That, in turn, impacts Robby's relationship with Tory (Peyton List), who still believes in Cobra Kai.

Former Eagle Fang student Devon (Oona O'Brien) gets a worthwhile new storyline that pairs her with Tory. That only means she'll deserve more screen time in Season 6.


The Cobra Kai writers are paying attention to what fans want to see and deriving entire storylines out of throwaway lines from the film sequels.

Season 5 may finally have exhausted what The Karate Kid Part III has to offer narratively and thematically, so it's definitely time Cobra Kai showed The Next Karate Kid some love.

Cobra Kai continues all of its worthwhile storylines and still introduces some new characters. It leaves room for a compelling sixth season, which may warrant 12 or more episodes, or an hour-long drama to service the new and legacy characters.

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.

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