The Emmys aren’t until September, but I’m starting the Cobra Kai nomination movement now. Season 4 of Netflix’s martial arts series and, more specifically, its lead actor William Zabka, should be top contenders in the comedy categories. If I could finish this paragraph with a low roundhouse kick and knee hit to get my point home, I would.
I understand this crusade is a steep climb. I advocate that the aging television academy vote on a young adult series where teenagers beat each other up, and the show might as well have fallen from heaven when it debuted in 2018 and ran two seasons on YouTube Premium. It received a nomination for a comedy series last year after switching to Netflix, and its mini-mall brawls and karate championship showdowns made it among the nominees in kid gloves like “Emily in Paris”, “Ted Lasso” and The Kominsky Method. “Fans loved the riot and humor, but the action may have distracted voters from Cobra Kai’s strength as an inventive, cohesive series that refines its comedic rhythm over four seasons just as their characters perfected their martial arts.
At the forefront of the charges is series lead and co-executive producer William Zabka. He played the role of Johnny Lawrence, the rich kid’s tyrant in The Karate Kid from the 1980s, who took on good working class worker Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). Her fate is reversed in the TV series in which Lawrence is a divorced, often unemployed craftsman and former sensei of the unscrupulous dojo Cobra Kai. He’s emotionally stunted, he lacks basic social skills and he has a culture barometer that got stuck in 1985. When training a young male mentee under the banner of his new dojo, Eagle Fang (bahaha!), He explains that the world always conspires to make you less of a man. His proof: light beer. Vegetarian burgers. Automatic transmission.
Johnny’s Ice Age self-improvement – two good deeds forward, three six-packs back – could have turned into sheer shit in the hands of another cast member. But Zabka skillfully made the stubborn character grow without sacrificing Johnny’s guy-like essence. Though the All Valley tournament champion is set in his own way, he’s never the same from season to season, though his penchant for Judas Priest is spiced with 11 and Manwiches flavored with beef jerky.
He is the heart and soul of the show. This season he has vowed to partner with rival LaRusso, who is now the owner of a successful dealership – leading Johnny to both question and double-up on his Strike First, No Mercy policies. The story unfolds around him with the returning cast, more original characters from the movies (Thomas Griffith as scheming Terry Silver), and new additions to the teenage crew (like Dallas Duprees Kenny). Cobra Kai, usurped by John Kreese (Martin Kove), is a threat to the good and noble of karate, and the series continues to draw on the themes that made the films swing: anger versus restraint, the rich versus the working class , Win at all costs versus moral responsibility. While the story is rooted in the history of the films, the story is engaging and fresh thanks to new twists, character changes, and a shrewd refusal to take the seriousness of the ’80s too far before making fun of it.
The drama takes place in the San Fernando Valley, from the Tony Hills of Encino, where the LaRussos live (including daughter Amanda, played by Courtney Henggeler) to the apartments of Reseda, where Johnny and his mentee Miguel (Xolo Mariduena) live in one Live unironic, run-down apartment complex from the middle of the century. The teenagers are destined to repeat their parents’ mistakes when something or someone doesn’t change.
And that brings us back to Zabka. Still trying to survive financially as Johnny after the duplicitous Kreese stole his dojo, he struggles to keep up with a world that has changed drastically over the course of his life. It grows so slowly with each new sober experience, so forgive him if he stumbles upon pronouns and thinks “gender fluid” is a sports drink. Zabka is masterful at lighting tiny lightbulbs of promise and progress in an otherwise sober and seemingly hopeless case. He subtly argues that guys who eat 7-Eleven hot dogs for breakfast deserve love and respect too.
“Cobra Kai” is a comedy to be taken seriously, mainly thanks to Zabka.
Rating: TV-14 (may not be suitable for children under 14 years of age)
Where to Watch: Season 4 is now streamed on Netflix
Copyright 2022 Tribune Content Agency.