By Saidat Giwa-Osagie
Thirty-seven years after their initial Karate Kid showdown, the stars of Netflix’s Cobra Kai say their characters’ rivalry still runs strong in the upcoming third season of the hit show.
The new season, which launches in January, escalates the teenage feud between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) as they teach divergent karate styles and pass on their rivalry to a new generation of mentees.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Zabka says the decades-old conflict between Johnny and Daniel has reached a new level. “It’s just as deep I would say, but it’s more mature.”
The series sometimes hints at a potential friendship between the two, but hopes for an end to the longtime rift dim following an epic life-or-death fight between Danny’s mentee (who also happens to be Johnny’s son) and one of Johnny’s star students. Intergenerational conflict is a recurring theme in the show which links the original characters to the new cast. The origin of the feud speaks to its depth, says Zabka.
“It’s old wounds… Now we’ve got the two opposing theories and philosophies of Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai clashing through these two characters who are imperfect and trying to change and be their best.”
Despite a whole generation passing between Karate Kid and Cobra Kai, the karate-busting tale still captivates audiences today and parallels similar storylines in the new series. “The story works on a human level,” Macchio tells us. “There are themes of bullying, fatherhood, single parenting, mentorship. All those themes do not go away in life; they’re all part of life and the coming of age – the adolescence and how you navigate hurdles and bullying and your growth as a human being still resonates and still works.”
The iconic moments from the film are sprinkled throughout the series with a mix of obvious and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references. That’s all part of the franchise’s enduring charm, according to Macchio. “You add the magic of the crane kick, the magic of Miyagi being able to do this and heal the wounds, the skeleton costumes, the Halloween fight, the ‘sweep the legs’, the catching flies with chopsticks, the waxing cars that turn into karate moves…. all of that and pop culture embracing that has kept it up in the air.”
Cobra Kai’s continuation of the hit franchise owes much of its success to the careful retelling of Daniel and Johnny’s history. For Zabka, the show is an opportunity to reframe the Karate Kid story beyond the film’s good versus evil dichotomy. “Obviously, with the TV show, we can show all the angles and complexities of the characters.”
“What’s great is watching these two characters look and say, ‘Hey, maybe we’d be better as friends’,” Zabka says, “But there’s a lot in the way that so it’s exciting. It’s very layered.”
While fans may relish in the nostalgia of the show, Cobra Kai aims to break new ground with a new generation of teenage karate stars. With a fourth season in the pipeline, the future looks bright.
Speaking on the longevity of the Cobra Kai series, Zabka hints at endless possibilities “This is a long-form TV show that has no end in sight.”
Continuing the legacy of a much-loved film is not an easy feat, but Macchio says Cobra Kai’s playful reverence of the source material resonates with old and new fans. “By not losing sight of all of that, yet making it fresh and new going forward is the recipe for success, at least right now.”